Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Emil II, Chapter II
Missing Bodies

“This city… it’s dirty… dirty in ways no kid should see…”
Aaron ‘Lucky’ Johnson


Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007

GM: “That was fun,” Hillary says as the pair exit the AV Club’s claimed classroom on Brother Martin’s campus. “They forgot to do my audition though, now that I’m thinking about it.”

Emil: “Well I think you more than displayed your talent to them. You’ve got yourself a real feel for storytelling, Hill.” Emil smiles at her, some hollywood apartment picket fence vision of the future passing through his head.

GM: “Glad you think so,” Hillary smiles as the two get in her car. “My mom says so much of connecting with audiences is being able to tell stories.”

Emil: “And the hardest part of any story to write is the ending. And you figured one out in a few minutes. Maybe you should go ask them for a writer’s credit,” Emil jokes, only a little more than halfway serious.

GM: “Oh I think most of it was that Cécilia girl,” Hillary says as she twists the ignition and pulls the car out of the lot. “It was really fun doing this though. Nothing at stake. Politics with my mom can just get so ugly.”

Emil: “That sucks,” Emil responds after a moment. “Well, at the very least you can say that you argue your points well. People don’t like to see their worldviews challenged, especially if the challenge has legs. Do you ever just talk with her about nothing?”

GM: Hillary actually takes a moment to answer that. “We try to, but she’s always so busy. Half the time it just turns back to the Malveauxes.”

Emil: “They’re donors to the school, right? Why do you think your mom so obsessed with them?” Emil doesn’t want go give bad advice, but he’s also uneasy in saying this, not wanting to take up more of Hillary’s day with the same politics she is stressed about.

GM: Hillary’s expression already looks tired. “Because they make her job hell. Or, well, one of them does. Nathan Malveaux’s the minority leader and state GOP chair. Our party has the House, the Senate, and the governor’s mansion. We should be able to get done anything we want, right?”

“Nathan’s made it his personal mission in life to gum up everything. He drags out debates as long as possible on the Senate floor. He turns the atmosphere completely toxic. He accuses opponents of corruption and drags up scandals all the time. Most of them totally baseless but convincing-sounding. He files lawsuits against legislation my mom’s passed for being unconstitutional. He plays to the media and turns every day into a new crisis, with Dems being out to drag the state to hell and himself as the only person who can stop them. He just sucks of all the oxygen out of the room.”

“And forget ever getting anything bipartisan done. If my mom wanted to re-pave a highway, he’d scream it was her fault it needed to be re-paved, he’d scream it was only costing so much money because she was embezzling it, he’d scream we were wrong to re-pave the highway in the first place, he’d scream it’s my mom’s fault when it hasn’t been re-paved, he’d scream he’s filing a lawsuit because re-paving highways the way we’re doing it is unconstitutional, and then once the highway was finally re-paved, he’d scream he could have done it ten times better and how the people of Louisiana deserve more from their leaders.”

Hillary heaves an angry sigh.

“He just obstructs everything. Turns everything into a war. I can’t even imagine how big a headache he’d be if we didn’t, you know, control every branch of the government. And he’s working like a demon to change that. The state’s trending redder. He makes it feels like we’re losing even when we’re winning.”

Hillary makes a face. “Ugh. I feel like I’m buying into his whole… crazy world just saying that, making it about ‘winning.’ Things used to be a lot more bipartisan. There used to be a lot more people working together across the aisle.”

She sighs. “And look, there I go, ranting all about him. This is how half the conversations with my mom always go these days.”

Emil: Emil takes in the bulk of the information abstractly; he never was one for politics. But for Hillary’s sake, he tries to internalize the context. “Hey, don’t be too harsh on yourself. His presence in your life is clearly distressing to you, you have the right to speak your mind if it will help you vent. And Hill, it sounds like you and your mother are fighting the same struggle. So why are things getting ugly between you two?”

GM: Hillary sighs again as Gentilly’s rows of palm tree-interspersed homes roll past the window. “They’re not ugly between us, it’s just… everything always turns back to politics. And you heard how ugly that is.”

Emil: Emil sighs in turn. “I can understand that. It’s part of the reason my mom divorced my dad. I was a little too young too catch it back then, but my dad was always stuck in his casework. Like, come to think of it, I don’t really have any memories of him except for when he was taking me on the job or telling me about this or that mystery that was eluding him.”

GM: “Wait, really? Your dad took you out on patrol as a little kid?” Hillary sounds faintly horrified. “No offense with him working there, but NOPD’s probably the dirtiest, most violent, most corrupt police department in the country. All sorts of stuff could’ve happened to you.”

Emil: “Jeez. When you put it like that,” Em says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I dunno. When I was a kid, nothing really felt dangerous. It was just me and my dad. And if something happened, well that was nothing a hug and a beignet couldn’t fix. I was just born into it I guess,” Emil responds, shrugging away the thought of his father willingly putting him in mortal danger.

GM: “You’ve talked about him a few times. Actually, more than a few. How was it he died?” Hillary asks.

Emil: “Well, I guess you could say that the divorce was what did him in, but that would be ignoring the ballistics evidence,” Emil responds automatically. He has a few of those lines queued up whenever he’s asked about Dad. Might not be the healthiest response, but it certainly makes things simpler.

GM: “Someone shot him?” Hillary repeats. She sounds surprised, though Emil has to wonder just how much after the NOPD remark. “I’m so sorry, that must have been awful. Did they ever find out who?”

They did, as it turned out. Two hopped-up gangbangers who the senior Kane still managed to put down. It was an open and shut homicide.

Emil: But that’s just the police. Emil knows how this works. Of course they said they found the guys who did it. He was one of them. Someone needed to pay for their man. And if the lie wasn’t from the police, those gangbangers couldn’t have just been random shmucks. Of course not, there’s no tragedy in that. No story. Just an incident. And when it comes to a man like his father, his death had to have meaning. At least a scrap of a reason. Something?

“No, I didn’t,” he responds, just a little too late and a little too wrong to be a satisfactory answer.

GM: Late and wrong or timely and right, Hillary’s response is at least appropriate enough. “Wow. I can’t imagine what that must be like to have hanging over you.” After a moment she asks, “Have you visited his grave lately?”

Emil: “I actually haven’t. I don’t like being alone in cemeteries. It’s harder to ignore that no one is responding to you when you don’t have someone there to believe with you that someone is listening.” Emil feels the pull of the weight of the topic on his jowls; he feels it aging him. Killing him.

GM: That downward pull is mirrored on Hillary’s facial muscles too, though hers looks more puzzled than haggard. “That someone is listening?”

Emil: “My dad. That he’s listening when I visit him.”

GM: “Oh. Well, that makes a lot more sense.” Hillary shakes her head. “People can just believe a lot of crazy stuff around here.”

“We could stop by, though, if you wanted to. You wouldn’t have to be there alone.”

Emil: “Yeah. I think that would be nice.”

But as the two cruise down the road, Emil wonders instead:

Who or what else could be listening to the mourners of New Orleans?


Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007

GM: Like anything else in this city, you can do it easy if you’re willing to do it dirty.

Emil hasn’t been to St. Louis Cemetery #1 before. Hillary explains that it’s closed to the general public. Only tour groups are allowed inside (they cost about $20), with special visitor’s passes for historians and anyone with family interred in the famous cemetery. When Emil asks if vandalized graves are why the place is closed off, Hillary nods. Morbidly enough, cemeteries in New Orleans are hotbeds of crime and gang activity. It’s not a good idea to visit by oneself, especially at night. You might never walk out.
“Some gangs are even into the whole voodoo thing,” Hillary says. “There’s been some really… creepy reports, but it’s not like the cops are going to make cemeteries part of their patrol routes. So they try to just keep people out.”

The two could visit with a tour guide, and probably pay off the guide not to make a fuss if they split off from the group. “People do stuff like that all the time here,” Hillary casually tells the still-recent California transplant.

Emil, though, wants to visit in the evening when there isn’t a tour going on. Hillary is leery of visiting a later hour, and suggests afternoon instead. A Qeeqle search says the last tours only start at 1 PM.

Getting the pass itself is relatively painless, even if the pair end up visiting Sunday instead of Monday. It gives Emil time to go through his dad’s box.

It’s 3 PM when he and his girlfriend drive out to Tremé. The neighborhood looks poor and crime-ridden. On the way over, Emil sees yellow ‘POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS’ barricade tape, NOPD cars, and personnel surrounding a motionless body. A wild-eyed, handcuffed man screams obscenities and froths deliriously from one of the cars’ backseats. Several cops are laughing.

Hillary tells him to just drive faster.

St. Louis Cemetery #1 itself well earns Mark Twin’s nickname: “the Cities of the Dead.” Everything about the eerily quiet cemetery’s character bolsters the illusion of days long gone by. Signs of age are everywhere: broken shells and cobblestones, dredged from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, form the alleys, and the crumbling, chipped above-ground crypts hold the dead. The disorderly layout of the tombs and burial plots are a labyrinth that Emil supposes only the dead themselves could easily navigate.

The dead are a lot more at home here. They don’t have to deal with the heat, either. The subtropical New Orleans sun is as skin-baking as ever, there’s virtually no shade, and the heat-absorbing oven vaults block any semblance of a cool summer breeze while doing nothing to stifle the muggy humidity. Many of the family tombs also bear cryptic symbols, as well as signs of vandalism and and too-modern urban decay: cigarette butts, discarded needles, and even used condoms. Emil can only imagine what moribund, demented souls would require such in this place.

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It’s a well-known factoid the dead aren’t buried in New Orleans. They’re interred. The ground is too wet—as early colonists discovered, to their horror, when the region’s periodic rains and floods washed back up their loved ones’ decayed corpses and sailed them down the city’s muddy streets. Above-ground mausoleums keep the dead where they’re supposed to be. Even when actual burials are more feasible today, history is too ingrained. And so the dead continue to make their homes within crumbling, neighborhood-like rows of house-sized crypts in a moribund parody of suburbia, all so they might not disturb the living.

“Cities of the Dead” feels all-too apt.

Like any city, some residents live large and others live small. In contrast to the massive intergenerational mausoleums that belong to historied families such as the Malveauxes, Earl Bradford Kane’s posthumous home is a modest burial vault.

There’s little to distinguish it from its neighbors—apart from how it’s open when all the others are closed, and the stooped, shabbily-dressed figure who’s is rummaging through what’s aside.

Emil: Upon seeing the man digging through his father’s vault, Emil tells Hillary to stay back a bit, and walks up to the man, giving him a performance derivative of the stern intensity his father used to give his soon-to-be arrests. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

GM: The man abruptly spins around at Emil’s voice. He is a short, weaselly-looking fellow with dark yet pasty skin, wide lips, and an oddly depressed-looking nose. His beady eyes are gray and watery.

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“What a faggot!” he shouts in a shrill voice.

Hillary, watching from some distance behind Emil, warily reaches into her purse.

Emil: “Excuse me, what?” Emil responds, so surprised he defaults to politeness before returning to his senses. “Get the fuck away from the vault!”

GM: The young man seems to almost jump at Emil’s voice, glances furtively at the vault, and then suddenly grins.

“I bet…” he turns at looks at the name, “Earl Kane, I bet he’s a faggot! Bet he’s getting bumfucked and screaming like a bitch! Bet these condoms are his! What a faggot! What a queer! What a sissy! I bet he CRIES when he CUMS, if he can even GET hard, that BALL-SLURPING BOYWHORE!”

The young man turns and hacks a glob of spit at the vault’s plaque. Wet saliva slowly trickles down over the inscribed ‘Kane.’

“What the fuck!?” Hillary exclaims bewilderedly, pulling a canister of pepper spray out of her purse.

Emil: A number of thoughts flit through Emil’s head as the man barrages him with insult soup: Oh God he’s nuts. Do they even lock these vaults?

When the glob of spit hits the nameplate of the vault, Emil feels an awfully hot knot forming in his throat. Following the saliva with his eyes, he then makes the startling realization that his father’s vault lacks a key feature: his father.

“Who the hell are you?” Emil spits out, the knot feeling thicker and hotter by the moment.

GM: The man runs up to Emil, shoves him in his chest, then dances away and thrusts a finger at him.

“Nigger! Fag! Niggerfag! Nigger nigger nigger NIGGERFAG! You like it in the ass! HE’S A FAG, YOU’RE A FAG!”

Emil: Emil rights himself from the push, then takes out his Nokia N95. There’s a disgusted look on his face as he snaps a picture of the vulgarity-spitting man before starting to videotape.

“Hillary, can you call the service number? Or the police? My dad’s body is missing.”

GM: The man doesn’t stand still though. Neither does Hillary.

There’s a low hiss as Emil’s girlfriend depresses the pepper spray. The man lithely dances away, then shoves Emil again, harder. He hits the ground with a painful thud as the man laughs, “Thanks for the phone, FAG!” and snatches it out of his hands.

“Hey!” Hillary yells. She goes for the pepper spray again, but she’s too slow as the still-laughing man runs up and shoves her, too. She awkwardly hits a mausoleum wall as the man snatches her purse and takes off running.

Not before he whirls and kicks her between the legs. Hard. Hillary screams and crumples.

THANKS, CUNT!” he shouts over his shoulder.

Emil: Emil gets off the ground with a grunt, unable to stop the man from hurting Hillary. Dammit.

He rushes over to Hillary’s side, wrapping his arms around her and asking her as calmly as he can, “Are you okay, Hill?”

GM: “No! I’m not okay!” his girlfriend shouts, clutching her groin. “Just because I don’t have balls doesn’t mean that doesn’t hurt! Ow ow OWW!”

“Why didn’t you stop him!” Hillary is full-on crying. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into going to a cemetery by ourselves!”

Emil: “You’re right, Hill, this is my fault. I should’ve stayed with you. I’m sorry,” Emil says, that red hot knot melting into shame. “What’s important is that you and I will be okay. We’re going to be okay.”

GM: “Wh—no! You shou—oww! You just let him beat you—oowwww! Up! And shit-talk your dad, you just let him!”

Hillary is not feeling better, and she doesn’t want to stick around. She wants to go home—and since they both lost their phones, they can’t even call someone about this.

Emil: Emil is reluctant to simply leave. His father’s missing for God’s sake! Emil insists they look at the vault before they go. That’s what they came here for in the first place. Maybe the clearly mentally ill man left some identifying information, and if that fails, Emil will rummage through his pockets for a tissue or a container and will quickly scoop up a sample of the glob of expectorant covering his father’s name.

GM: “What are you talking about! I want to get out of here!” Hillary exclaims when Emil brings up his dad’s body. It’s plain she didn’t catch (or simply doesn’t remember) what he said when the man was attacking them.

She pauses, though, when Emil explains someone has absconded with his father’s remains, and gives a confused look. “What? Why would someone… owww… take your dad’s body?”

Emil: “Hell I’m as confused as you are, let’s check out that vault.” He leads, first walking up to the vault and peering in, before doing any further investigation.

Emil lets his arm stretch somewhat inside the vault. He feels the oven-like heat emanating from the humidity drenched walls, and out of fear of getting burnt, decides against feeling the sides for evidence of, well maybe a body? That’s what the use these vaults for right? Instead, he pulls his arm out and gives it a visual inspection, noting the lack of fresh stains on the stone and the prevalence of dust, which puts him into a coughing fit as he pulls his head out of the hole. He’s not quite sure, but he has a hunch that his father may never have actually been in this vault. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s had the pleasure of undergoing the slow cremation in this particular vault for years. Another thing, and Emil isn’t going to push his head back into that dusty oven again to check, but he thinks he saw a portion of the floor of the vault where the dust had been disturbed, like something was there. Again, he’s not quite sure… but he thinks he caught a glimpse of letter paper in the tomb before the man ran off.

GM: Hillary gives him a still-flummoxed look. “So you think someone stole his body, years ago? I mean, there’s obviously no body there, and we didn’t see that guy running off with it. But why would someone do that?”

Neither of the two college students, however, can readily answer that question. Now that they’ve looked out, Hillary wants to get out of here, pronto. She still really hurts from where “that crazy” kicked her and she doesn’t feel safe. What if gang members or “some other crazy” come by?

The two also notably lack phones. If they want to call the cemetery caretakers, like Emil brings up, they’ll have to do it from somewhere else anyway.

Emil: Emil looks at the open vault with some hesitation. It’s not like he can do much in the way of dealing with it at the moment, but it feels wrong to leave the spot exposed. Nevertheless, he agrees with Hill that it’s best to leave.

GM: Hillary tells Emil to take her back to her mom’s house, who usually spends weekends in the city. “Guess I’ll have to get all my credit cards canceled now,” she sourly remarks.

She doesn’t talk much for the rest of the drive.

Emil: Emil gets the car back in one piece despite the ruckus of the city, frustrated that the universe has conspired to ruin what he had hoped would be a very peaceful moment but curious still at what God has in store for him. To be frank, Emil’s father has been missing from his life more than he has been a fixture, so perhaps God intends to provide some closure if he ever finds the body, or perhaps just intends to maintain the status quo. God does work in mysterious ways.

At the same time, God works through man, and Emil feels the need to find the man, whether more for retribution or collecting that letter. It is at this point that Emil remembers the tissue in his pocket, covered in the spit he cleaned off his dad’s name, and promptly gags as he stores it in his glove compartment and makes a mental note to bleach his pockets with the nearest bottle of Tide he can find.


Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007

GM: The nearest bottle might be in the well-to-do-looking Touro house where Emil drops off Hillary. She doesn’t invite him in, though, and gets out of the car with a somewhat flat-sounding, “Bye.”

Emil: Upon concluding that unless he finds the fuck who kicked Hillary and took their belongings, she is never going to let that down, Emil puts the car into drive and heads to find the nearest payphone. He’s gotta act fast if he wants to be anywhere close to successful.

GM: The payphone has a phone book with a listing for St. Louis Cemetery #1 that Emil looks up (504-596-3050). The man he tells his story to makes a disgusted remark about “degenerates” and says he’s calling the police about this. Desecration of graves is a crime. It carries a fine up to $500 and imprisonment up to six months, in fact.

Emil: Emil thanks the man for listening to his situation and acting to help mend the experience, but he has a few requests he would like to make. First of all, he wants to know if there’s any surveillance footage taken inside or at the entrance to the cemetery, as the attacker took several of their personal belongings and assaulted him and his girlfriend. If possible, he would like to look at it so he can make a full report to the police himself. Secondly, he wants to know if the cemetery stores burial records he could look into.

GM: “Nope. No surveillance,” the man answers. “When there’s problems we call the cops, for all the good it does.”

St. Louis Cemetery is owned by New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries, which maintains an office space in the CBD. They store records there for burials in all of their cemeteries.

Emil: Emil thanks the man nonetheless and hangs up, before looking through the phone book once again to find the number of New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries. He types in 504-596-3050, and awaits a response.

GM: The exact same guy he just spoke to picks up.

“New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries, how can we help?”

Emil: “Hi, I’m looking for records regarding…” The realization that this is the same man he just spoke to hits Emil mid-sentence, but he’s already halfway into the sentence so he might as well finish it. “…burial vaults in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.”

GM: “You don’t say. I just spoke to a completely different kid asking about the same thing,” the man answers dryly.

He listens to Emil’s requests, then says, “Mm-mm. Sure, we can pull all that up. Might take a while though. Why don’t you stop by our office and make an offering to the collection plate?”

Emil: He considers the theological ramifications of making a tithe to what he suspects is directly the Catholic church, given that their definition of monotheism is shaky at best, but pushes that feeling down, he’s got a dead dad to find. God will forgive him for his forced generosity. Probably.

“You know I think I will. I’m actually gonna come on over right after this call, no doubt.”

GM: The man says goodbye and hangs up. Emil drives to an impassive gray office building in the CBD. The interior lobby has some Catholic iconography and a labeled picture of the Archbishop Orson Malveaux, an obese but imperious-looking man clad in archaic ceremonial vestments. His unsmiling visage surveys Emil and all else within the lobby with a distinct sense of ownership.

The man Emil spoke to on the phone is a mustached, middle-aged Hispanic man in a white office shirt and tie. He holds out a hand and says he’ll get Emil’s donation to a collection plate that the college student does not see.

Emil: Emil takes out his wallet, the tough, darkly stained leather one his mom said used to be his dad’s, and retrieves a crisp fifty dollar bill he earned last week writing a web crawler for a grad student’s research. He eyes the portrait above him with some trepidation. Is this a collection plate or a bribe? Is that just how things work around here?

“I hope this comes to good use, for the sake of my father.” Emil hands the man the bill, hoping that’s enough for the Catholic God to hear his request.

GM: “It sure will,” the mustached man answers as he tucks the bill away. “Now, so far as your guy…”

There are many prior internment requests at the senior Kane’s burial vault. It is not part of a family plot and has housed a long list of individuals bearing different surnames, and dating quite far back. The earliest names are barely legible.

Details of who requested and paid for the burial of Emil’s father aren’t included in the ledgers, but Emil is aware that it’s standard policy for the police department to do that. Especially when the deceased officer has died in the line of duty.

“Solemn honor” is the only way to adequately describe how the widow and surviving family of an officer who’s made the ultimate sacrifice are treated. The department falls over itself to make things as easy for the survivors as they possibly can. They take care of everything. They pay for everything. Everything from 24/7 support, prepared meals, and personal protection to a vigil around the casket to burial with full military honors is quite common. The mayor or police chief usually says some words at the funeral.

Emil’s father was interred in 1992, quite some time ago. The name before then, Russell Evans, was interred in 1990. Before him was Rose Sanders in 1988. Dates before then vary in length, but are always by at least two years. There are no names after the senior Kane’s. He’s had the vault to himself for 15 years.

When Emil queries the employee he spoke to earlier, “to be clear on the rules of this,” the man answers that standard policy is to wait two years before reusing burial vaults. Families can, however, pay for the cemetery to wait a longer period. Sometimes they also don’t have to. Sometimes a vault simply happens not to get reused, “although that’s pretty much up to chance.”

The longest families can pay them to wait is 25 years, although they can pay more than once. “But if you’re going to that much effort, you might as well just get ’em their own plot.”

Emil: Emil is increasingly hoping that he will not have the pleasure of being buried in this city. He was taught Jews never cremate bodies. They said that when the Mashiach comes, and God raises the dead, our souls will all return to the bodies we left in the ground. But in New Orleans, what is there to come back to being? Living dust? On the bright side, at least with the plot leasing you’ll have a couple other dust piles to keep you company.

“Say, if you happen to know any groundskeeper who has been working at the cemetery for a while, who you know pays good attention, I’d want to give a donation to the collection plate in his name, for taking such good care of the plot while I’ve been out of town. I just need a name is all, maybe a number, you understand,” Emil adds.

GM: “Barnard Lejeune,” the man says without missing a beat. He provides a number too. “Been working the grounds for a pretty long while. Longer than I’ve been here.”

Emil: Emil takes out a less crisp twenty he was saving for purchasing some sweet pastries for him and Hill this evening, and places it on the table. “May this be a blessing for Mr. Lejeune. And if you ever have any need of someone who knows their way around machines and mysteries, give me a call,” he says, taking out a sharpie and writing his number on the bill. “By the way, whom should I say referred me to him?”

GM: “Abel Seco, and you bet,” says the man, pocketing the bill.

Emil: “Pleasure. My name is Em.” Emil holds out his hand.

GM: Abel shakes it. “You got mine.”

And a lesson in how things are done in this city, it looks like.


Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007

Emil: After exchanging pleasantries and collecting a copy of the documents he requested, Emil heads back out to his car, and heads directly to the police station.

GM: The Criminal Investigations Unit where his dad worked is located just around where the CBD recedes into Mid-City. There’s a sense of things falling apart, getting worse, or at least less cared for. Buildings are smaller, shorter, dirtier. Haughty and coldly assured working professionals give way to sullen and resentful working-class joes and janes.

The police station squats on the divide between those two worlds like an overlarge guard dog, raspily panting menace. It’s a featureless, brick-shaped and fortress-like building, all hard concrete, blunt angles, and few windows.

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Several police are beating a prone and handcuffed man. They shout obscenities as they kick his stomach and stomp his face in broad daylight. A few passersby sneer or glare, but most just walk faster.
The building’s interior looks aging and neglected, its seats hard and uncomfortable. The woman at the front desk is doing her nails and doesn’t look up at Emil when he approaches.

Emil: “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m looking to speak to a few friends of my father. Are either Otis Wiggons or Lucky Johnson on the premises today?” Emil says in as polite a voice as he can muster.

He remembers his dad saying those names while on the job. Though when you’re a kid it’s hard to tell the difference between shooting the shit and cursing someone out. He’s hoping with these folks it’s the former, though anger sticks better in the memory than happiness. So maybe the latter would be preferable.

GM: The woman keeps painting her nails.

Emil: “That’s an elegant color on you, ma’am,” Emil tries.

GM: “Goes with my skin, right?” she remarks cheerfully. It’s blue. Her skin is dark.

Emil: “It sure does. Where did you purchase it? It’s got to be a specialty boutique to get that nice a finish, no?” Emil smiles at the woman.

GM: “It’s Pangloss,” the woman mentions. “My cousin works at their plant in St. Claire. She gets me free jars sometimes.”

Emil: “Gotta love family. My mom used to take me to the local Sephora kiosk to help her pick out her shade. She said I had good color sense. But she only ever wanted blue,” he chuckles. “You could bet your bottom dollar I got pretty darn good at telling the difference between good and bad shades of blue.”

GM: “Yeah, I like blue. ’S a good color. My favorite one.”

She looks Emil over. “You were here for somethin’?”

Emil: “Yeah actually, I wanted to talk to a couple old friends of my father, Officer Kane. Are Otis Wiggons or Lucky Johnson around?” Emil repeats.

GM: The woman picks up her phone and dials a number. “Aaron? There’s a kid here to see you.”

There’s a pause. “Says he’s an Officer Kane’s boy.”

She looks up after another pause. “Second cubicle.”

Emil: “Thank you, ma’am.” Emil says before walking past the entrance, to the cubicles. Upon reaching the second, he knocks on the cubicle wall. “Officer Johnson?”

GM: Emil makes his way past another station with a desk sergeant and receptionist who direct him upstairs. He finds himself in a common office area with about a dozen cubicles and alternately typing and chattering cops. A large board by one of the walls has a long list of what looks like ongoing investigations, along with who’s assigned to what.

The man Emil finds in the second cubicle looks anything but lucky. He’s in maybe his 40s, 50s at most, but there are deep and haggard lines on his dark-skinned face unaccompanied by the smaller, more numerous wrinkles actual age would bring. His hair is graying and receding. He wears a wrinkled blue dress shirt that looks like it’s seen better days, a conspicuously short checkered beige necktie, and ID badge on a cord that reads “Aaron Johnson.”

His brown eyes meet Emil’s, then widen.

Emil’s in the back of a car. The seat is hard and plastic. It aches. He’s cold. Rain crashes against the windows. Men’s darkened faces are visible through the prison-like steel bars.

“This ain’t right…” one man says hoarsely. “He’s jus’ a kid…”

The other man doesn’t answer him.

“Jus’ a kid…” the first man repeats. Quieter. Weaker.

There’s no answer. Just the pounding rain. The shk-shk of the wipers. And the chatter of a small’s boy’s teeth.

Then, another sound. It doesn’t disturb the night. It belongs to it. It belongs to the dark and the rain and the cold, to the phantasmal images half-reflected in the moonlit bars that a child’s mind balloons into fevered terrors.

“Where’s the woman who needs to die, Emil?”

He opens his mouth. A nightmare flies out. Shrill and black and unintelligible, with clawing and scraping beating wings that leave his throat raw and red.

It might be a scream.

But his questioner nods.

“Drive.”

They drive.

Widened brown eyes unbroken across 15 years stare into his.

Why in God’s name is this man nicknamed ‘Lucky’?

Emil: Emil feels his whole body tense up. His lanky ligaments feel like loose elastic pulled taut; regulated to light stretches and suddenly forced by extreme stress into a state felt before only so far in the past as to be foreign, unnatural. Emil is a child again, if just for a moment. And he is afraid of his father, and he is afraid of speaking, of bird’s claws and of scratched throats, and of dead women. And he stares at those present eyes and for the moment, isn’t thinking about finding his father’s body.

“I was jus’ a kid,” he lets out.

GM: At first, the man just looked surprised to see Emil. Now he startles, no, recoils, like the grown-up kid just pulled a gun on him. Walked into his cubicle and pulled out something hard and cold that can’t do anything except hurt.

“What… what are you doin’ here?” he rasps, the question asked without any pretense of politeness, small talk, or ‘hello, how are you.’

Emil: Emil is dragged from his childish regression at the response, though not entirely unscathed. Were he a child he would have his mother’s dress to bury his face in. Now he has to stand up straight and speak his mind. His throat feels dry, and when he speaks it threatens to match Lucky’s rasp. “I came here to ask you a few questions about my father.”

He waits a moment, partially to study the man’s reactions and partially from the lump in his throat at admitting this truth. “I don’t believe he was ever buried.”

GM: The man blinks again at Emil’s declaration.

“C’mon,” he says gruffly, getting up from his swivel chair.

Emil: Emil doesn’t ask him any questions, he just follows Lucky’s lead.

GM: The man doesn’t look at Emil as he briskly strides down the hall-space between the cubicles, or at least as briskly as he can with his limp. Office sounds go up around the two. People chatting. Phones ringing. Fingers typing. Some cops casually look at Emil. He wonders how much they heard.

There’s nothing at all casual about one man’s look.

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He’s got a hard nose, hard jawline, and harder eyes the color of corroded iron. His skin is worn and leathery like a well-used pair of work gloves, crisscrossed with faded scars, and pulled taut against gaunt cheekbones. He’s not thin though. He’s big. Even huge. His muscled physique isn’t pampered and meticulously maintained, but weathered, like granite left exposed to the elements. He’s a tall man, taller than Emil, and wears a scuffed, faded gray trench coat over a plain shirt of the same color. A police badge on a cord dangles around his neck in place of a tie.

He doesn’t say anything.

He just stares.

Emil: Emil doesn’t check for Lucky’s expression. He gets the sense that this is a man who doesn’t have much time to waste and he doesn’t feel right turning away even for a second. It’s not that he demands attention, it’s that ignoring the man feels like canoing down the river and letting go of the oars as soon as the water turns white.

“My name is Em Kane, sir. Did you know my father?” Emil extends a hand to the cracked cinderblock of a man.

GM: The man just stares at Emil, his corroded-iron eyes revealing nothing as to his thoughts. He doesn’t take the hand. He doesn’t tell Emil to leave. He doesn’t do anything.

Just stares.

Emil: Emil has read a few books on the subject of interrogation. It wasn’t a personal interest, simply for a class. He remembers learning that interrogators work best by saying little and letting the questioned talk to fill the dead air. That makes sense, but stone cold silence? He better hurry up and say what he needs to.

“My father’s body is missing and I don’t believe he was ever actually buried.”

GM: Lucky puts a hand on Emil’s shoulder. Not quite tugging him, but only not quite. “C’mon, Emil. Not here,” he says gruffly.

The iron-eyed man responds to Emil’s latest statement in exactly the same way as he did to Emil’s last one.

He doesn’t.

He just stares.

Emil: Emil nods respectfully at the man, then lets Lucky lead him further on. He’s not quite sure why he felt the need to tell him, but something in the man’s cold stare seemed to give him the right to know.

GM: The cop pulls him into the men’s bathroom. He glances at the empty stall, then says, “Shit, kid. Not in front of everyone.”

Emil: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Lucky. But did you see that man? He knows something. He recognized me.” Emil presses his finger into his own flesh, over his heart.

GM: “Yeah, an’ he ain’t the only one, with you sayin’ who your daddy is…”

Lucky seems to look at him again, then trails off.

“Shit… shouldn’ta come back, Emil… your mama was right…”

Emil: “Can’t you understand that I need some closure? You take a boy away from his dad for the greater part of his life, he’s gonna have some unresolved issues. I think you can help me find the answers to my questions. If you couldn’t, you wouldn’t have brought me here. Please.”

GM: “Shit… shit, kid…” The man hoarsely repeats. “You ever think your mama, she mighta had a reason for doing what she done. Your old man was dead. Wasn’t nothing here for you two no more. This city… it’s dirty… dirty in ways no kid should see…”

Lucky just looks at Emil with haggard eyes, and looks even less his namesake.

Emil: “I’m not a kid anymore, Lucky. I need to fix this, I need to bury my dad. God tells us to bury within a day to give the dead rest. It’s been fifteen years. Fifteen years.” There’s a clawing need hiding behind Emil’s eyes. One that goes beyond his words.

“I can’t leave the city without knowing he’s put to rest. Can’t leave until he turns into just a memory.”

GM: “Your old man was buried, Emil,” Lucky sighs. “Interred, you wanna be technical. I carried the coffin myself, me and the others… why you sayin’ he was never buried?”

Emil: “I visited my father’s grave a couple hours back. And well, long story short, but some mental case assaulted me and my girlfriend after maybe taking something from my dad’s vault and after he left, I saw that the vault was open to the air,” Emil explains.

“I looked inside, and it was bare. Not just empty, it looked like it hadn’t been touched in years.” The story spills out like fresh fudge over marble, soupy and uncertain, with the potential to solidify or shatter at the whim of fate.

GM: Lucky asks Emil for a description of the man, and even takes him back outside the bathroom to question him thoroughly as to the state of the crime scene and the order of events as they occurred. He accepts the saliva-stained tissue if Emil’s willing to give it up. “If this guy’s ever been arrested, we’ll have his DNA in the system already. Should be an easy match… good thinkin’, you pickin’ that up. I’ll put in a call to Captain Wiggons. Mid-City’s his district… he’ll bring this guy in.”

“Now, so far as your old man’s body… you have to understand, the heat turns those vaults into slow-cook ovens. Stick a body inside, and there’s nothin’ but bones an’ dust in a year. Bones get stolen. Tourists, shitty tour guides… they break open the vaults for souvenirs, all the time.”

“We’ll look into this, even if the guy you saw wasn’t the one who stole ‘em. Department paid for him to get his 25 years. Your old man had a lotta friends. We’ll get his bones back.”

Emil: “You’re probably right,” Emil admits. “But I want to be sure.”

He pulls out the documents he obtained from the cemetery office and flits through them. “I got a copy of the… tenant history of the vault. And the clerk who gave these to me said that if I wanted more detailed information on the whos and whens of internment and maintenance requests for the vault, I would have to seek them from the police.”

GM: “Well, that’s bullshit. We ain’t the ones who take care of the cemetery. Why the hell’d we know?”

Emil: That Catholic fuck.

“Sounds like I’ve been lied to. Why the hell would someone lie about not having the vault maintenance and internment request records if they weren’t hiding something in them. Doesn’t that sound suspicious to you?” A cheeky grin is spreading on Emil’s face. There’s more to dig into and he can feel he’s getting closer.

GM: “People say all sors’a crazy shit. Dunno why someone’d say we have that stuff,” Lucky shrugs.

“I’ll tell Wiggons to have someone stop by. People say all sors’a shit,” he repeats.

“Oh, another thing, Emil,” he brings up as he walks the younger man out of the police building, “how much do you… remember?”

Emil: “Apparently not as much as I’d thought,” Emil says, struggling to accept the cold voice of the shadowy cop as stemming from that rosy cheeked police officer who has lived in his mind all these years.

Emil stands in the doorway, his hand on the glass entrance. “Hey Lucky, how can I contact you… unofficially speaking? I want to talk to you about the city, about what I’ve missed, about what I’ve forgotten.”

GM: Lucky gives a weary look that makes him seem even less his nickname at Emil’s statement, but answers, “Right here’s where. That ain’ stuff you talk about on the phone.”

If Emil wants to talk, Lucky can meet him at Boswell’s Jamaican Grill tonight. His parents were Haitian immigrants and the Jamaican food is close enough to theirs.

Emil: “Tonight, then. I’m not sure when I’ll be getting my phone back, and I’d rather not lose the plan to the tides.” Emil holds out his hand to bid the man a good day.

GM: “Wouldn’t hold your breath on the phone, he mighta sold it even if we catch him.” Lucky hashes out a time for them to meet, then shakes Emil’s hand and heads back inside the station.

Emil: Emil’s thoughts stir, the little strands of memory soaking in the muddled dye basin of crossed perspectives and misplaced ideas. The more he hears, the more the strands seem to run over each other, forming stubborn knots that rise above the murky liquid, that declare, “I can never be undone.”

But, of course, Emil knows that any knot that can be tied by man can be untied just the same. Mathematical purity, God, and human arrogance demand it.

To undo the coiled knot of his father’s death, Emil just needs to pull on the right string.


Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007

GM: The first time Emil tries to reach Barnard Lejeune that afternoon he gets an automated-sounding, “The person you are trying to call has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet.”
He gets it again several hours later.

“The person you are trying to call has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet.”

It’s later into the evening when he’s finally answered by a worn-sounding male, “’Lo?”

Emil: “Mr. Lejeune? Is that you? Mr. Seco told me to call you. Said he thought we could help each other out if we had a chat,” Emil says, hoping that the Catholic God doesn’t demand a new donation for each follower of His that Emil interacts with.

GM: “Yeah, that’s me,” grunts the voice. “Help each other how?”

Emil: “Well, I wanted to know a little bit about your work at the cemetery. Lots of stories exist about the place, but I’ve never heard from someone who has taken care of it so long as you have.” Emil responds, before remembering that helping ‘each other’ implies he needs to offer something beyond his amiable company.

“I’ve got a few questions to ask if you want to share a drink or two. On me.” Emil adds.

GM: “What kindsa questions?” the voice grunts.

Emil: “The kind of questions that go down best with a stout. Anything you don’t want to answer, no problem. You still get the drinks. I’m just asking for your time.”

GM: “What kindsa questions?” the voice repeats.

Emil: Emil wonders at what point in life booze stops being sufficient payment for minor requests, and grows just a bit more weary for the world. “Questions about what the cemetery is like in the evenings. About the robbing of vaults. About the ways individuals find uses in the empty vaults that are left behind.” Perhaps this man will find his questions curious enough to respond to, in which case he has answers. Perhaps he simply hangs up? Well, then Emil knows that the cemetery is hiding something. Either way, he will have gotten closer to pulling on the lynch-pin strand of his investigation.

GM: There’s another grunt.

“You’re buyin’ me dinner too.”

Emil: “Why of course, Mr. Lejeune.” Emil says, pushing down butterfly feelings of eagerness to maintain his manners. “How does Dooky Chase tomorrow at eight P.M. sound to you?”

GM: There’s an affirmatory grunt, then the line clicks.

Emil: Emil replaces the receiver on the hook of the sticker speckled payphone drilled into the wooden siding of Marquer Drugs, a white shack off St. Roch Ave. that faces the St. Roch Market.

GM: Boswell’s is a no-frills, low-budget eatery in Mid-City. Pictures of palm trees and assorted Jamaican people give the place its Caribbean air. Lucky has already staked out a table.

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He looks like he’s been there for a while, judging by the two plates of food that are already sitting out. There’s some crispy and fried-looking nuggets of meat, macaroni with melted cheese, and a tall helping of stir-fried peppers, onions, carrot shreds, broccoli bits, and shrimp, submerged under a heavy-looking yellow-brown sauce with drizzled lemon. Lucky hasn’t touched either plate, although he’s sipping from one of the two cups of coffee.

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He stops when Emil meets his gaze. He doesn’t smile or wave.

Emil: Emil walks up to the table, pulls out a chair, and sits down to face Lucky. He’s hesitant to greet him, recognizing the graveness in Lucky’s demeanor from when he first saw him eye to eye this afternoon. Nevertheless, he needs answers.

“What are you remembering, Lucky?” It feels appropriate, asking that question. It’s where they place each other, inside fragments of their memories.

GM: “Hopin’ more than rememberin’,” the detective answers. “Hoped you wouldn’ show, but figured you still would.”

He nods at the plate furthest from him. “Other one’s yours. I’ll take it home if you feel like orderin’ somethin’ else.”

Emil: Emil sighs and spears a shrimp on his fork. Before he takes a bite, he responds, “Well, I’m glad you’re here, Lucky, and not just for the food.”

Emil takes a few chews of the meal, savoring the warm and cheesy taste of the macaroni alongside the spicy mix of still-fried vegetables.

About a third of the way through his plate, Emil puts his fork down to rest his hands on the table. He leans in and lowers his voice, “So, tell me about my father. What happened to him that makes you want me to stay away so bad? Or is it something else?”

GM: Lucky doesn’t touch his food for a moment, but then finally takes a bite of the crispy-looking nuggets, seemingly more out of courtesy to share in the same meal than any real appetite.

“I told you, Emil… this city’s dirty. Dirty in ways you couldn’… no, shouldn’, have to believe. Ways a kid shouldn’ have to grow up with. All she wanted was a good life for you. Gave you one too, it looks like.”

He spears another one with his fork, then asks, “Kid… why come back? Your old man’s gone… he ain’t comin’ back ‘cause you’re here.”

Emil: “Because it doesn’t matter if he comes back, I just want to know why he isn’t here. Maybe I want to know why my folks had to divorce in the first place.” He pauses for a moment, crunching on a plantain chip. “Maybe I just want to talk to you? I think I know you well in a sort of distant sense.”

GM: “Oh yeah?” Lucky asks.

He looks less than excited at that prospect.

Emil: “Yeah. My dad used to take me along on investigations. I remember you from them. I remember your voice from all those years back.”

Emil looks at Lucky in those brown eyes of his, which seem to have stayed frozen all these years, and asks, “What was he like?”

GM: Lucky is silent for a moment, then somberly answers, “He was a good man.”

But Emil can taste the lie like syrup poured over the spicy, savory dish. Too sweet to mask the real flavor.

Emil: “Were you?” Emil adds, and though he doesn’t intend to, there’s the bark of a cornered animal propping his words up in defense.

GM: “No,” the detective sighs. “Bein’ a good man ain’t easy in this city, Emil.”

Emil: Emil honestly would’ve asked why a month ago, but just today he bribed a man without blinking. Being a good man means no answers, and what else is a detective good for?

“How often did you and my father work together? Was he your… partner? I’m sorry, I don’t really know how things work around here.”

GM: “Well, we don’t technically have partners in NOPD,” Lucky says. “But that’s bullshi’, cause we do. Your old man had a lotta years on the force when I first joined. He was my boss. An LT. Good one. To me, anyway. He was a guy you either loved or hated. He had his vision an’ did things his way. He could be a hard man. Very hard man. But… hard men are the only ones who get things done here.”

Emil: “Do you think the ends justified his means?” Emil responds; his mind stuck on his father’s command. “Do you feel you made the right choices, Lucky?”

GM: Lucky seems to sag at that question, putting down his half-eaten nugget.

“Your dad… saw the rot, Emil. The rot at the city’s soul. So many of us, we just close our eyes, carry on, business as usual. There’s… only so much men can do, sometimes. How can you stop an avalanche with your hands…”

“Sometimes… you got to stain yourself black, make yourself filthy, to burn out the rot… do the wrong thing, to do what you hope is the right thing…”

Emil: “And yet, my father got shot to death, and you just now told me the city is as dirty as ever. So, what rot was rooted out for the price of his soul?” Emil counters, a confused pain showing on his young face.

GM: Lucky shakes his head emphatically at Emil’s declaration.

“Just ‘cause you can’t burn out all the rot don’t mean it’s not worth tryin’. Your old man, he believed with all his soul that it was. Even if that’s just pissin’ in the wind… just havin’ the guts to try is a helluva lot more than most folks can ever say.”

Emil: Emil nods apologetically. “You’re right. I’m speaking out of place, it’s disrespectful to his memory to say things like that. But, I just want to know, what was he fighting against— specifically?” Emil takes a quick, sharp breath, like a diver about to be submerged in the deep. “Why did that woman need to die?”

GM: Lucky instantly halts in mid-bite of some peppers. He looks like Emil just knocked his coffee all over his clothes.

“You want to do right by your old man’s memory, Emil, that’s the last thing you should be askin’. He knew involvin’ you was wrong. He knew it’d… that the rot woulda turned him black, eaten all the good that was left in him, if he let you get hurt… or worse’n hurt.”

“He didn’t fight your mama when she wanted to leave. Didn’t ask for custody. He wanted you to get out. To have a good life.”

Emil: “But you have to understand that I’m fine, Lucky. I never got hurt. He couldn’t have turned rotten, no. He died well. He must have died well.”

Emil frantically pulls out his wallet and takes out an old picture of him and his old man that he intended to leave on his father’s grave before the incident.

“Look at how happy I was,” Emil says with a shoddy approximation of the innocent smile he wears in the photo, worn down by doubt and years.

GM: Lucky looks at the picture and smiles. It’s a faint and tired expression, but he seems relieved to show it.

“I didn’t say your old man failed, Emil. He was just in time, gettin’ you outta the city. The rot didn’t eat him, not all the way. You got to live a good life. That was all he ever wanted. All he really wanted.”

“Shit, kid,” he exhales, the smile fading, “what you doin’ here? There’s nothin’ here for you. Just ghosts. You look like you’ve had a good life for yourself in L.A. That’s all your mama and daddy ever wanted for you.”

Emil: “You know, I came here thinking that I was going to find some grand mystery, some puzzle my father left behind for me to solve. I thought I was doing what Dad would’ve wanted. But of course, he wouldn’t put that on me. He just wanted me to be safe.” Emil nods, feeling a sense of sudden relief, before starting to shake his head.

“But I’m tied down here now. I have a girlfriend to take care of and to protect from kick-happy lunatics, I’m almost done with my degree, and I’m even gonna be in a local picture soon. Do you really think Dad would want me to abandon all this now?”

GM: Lucky does a double take. “Shit, kid, you’re goin’ to college here?”

After a moment he asks, “What’d your mama think of that?”

Emil knows full well what she thought of that.

“Emil, baby, what the hell’s wrong with L.A., or anyplace else?” was what she thought of that.

“I’m not paying for it,” was what she thought of that.

Emil: Emil scratches the back of his neck, looking off at one of the white columns supporting the building. “She, uh… had some reservations about the idea. But you have to understand, I was sure this was what my father would have wanted. I wanted to make my dad proud. I think on some level, she understood that… I hope.”

GM: “Might mean a lot to her to hear you understand s’more now, too.”

Emil: Emil nods in response. “I’ll call her once I get back home, no doubt.”

The nodding stops as he continues, a little more cautiously, “However, I still feel honor-bound to help stop my father’s vault from being disturbed any further. Since I am here, it would feel wrong to drop the matter entirely. Don’t you agree?”

GM: Lucky chuckles. “You have helped, Emil. You called the cops. We’ll find the guy, you did your part.”

Emil: “I know I did. I know,” Emil sighs. “If I’m being honest, it’s not just my folks I’m thinking of here. If I’m ever going to patch things up with Hillary, I need to show her that I can take charge of the situation. I don’t want to intrude on the investigation, and I won’t do anything dangerous, but I think I can help if you let me.”

GM: “Oh, girlfriend’s givin’ you the cold shoulder?”

Emil: Emil takes a frustrated bite of vegetable stir-fry. “Yeah, like I was telling you earlier, the guy kicked her and took her bag. So naturally, I rush over to make sure she’ll be alright. Well, turns out she would’ve preferred me to chase after that maniac. I dunno…” he trails off, muffling his indignation with a full-faced bite of the crispy nuggets.

GM: “Well, you kick him before that, at least?” Lucky asks.

When Emil says no, and then elaborates at Lucky’s request, the old cop scoffs.

“Well, shit, kid. Take a slug at the guy next time. I’m not sayin’ you have to be a he-man, but a punch shows heart. Even if you lose, it gets your girl kissin’ your boo-boos. Your girl don’t feel like you got any heart. She don’t feel like she can be safe around you.”

“Hell, you might not even lose. Lotsa fights I been in come down to who’s willin’ to get violent, who’s willin’ to go for the throat, than who’s stronger. Lotsa bullies don’t want a real fight. Guy who’ll just snap pictures an’ call the cops are like catnip to ’em.”

“Nobody respects a pushover. Your girl included, sounds like.”

Emil: Emil nods at the criticism, his teeth clenched in that odd way they get when you know in your gut that you were wrong. But then he suddenly chuckles, and with a faux-seriousness belied by an unconscious grin, responds, “But he was clearly mentally deficient. You can’t punch a retard, what if their parents are rich? I’m not looking to get sued.”

GM: “Shit, are you a California boy,” Lucky laughs. “Here we don’t care if they’re retards. They hit us, we clobber ‘em back. An’ their lawyer too if they try that bullshit. World’d be a better place if we all clobbed s’more lawyers.”

“There’s this one scumbag, Bert Villars, who I swear every pimp and crack king in the city has for a lawyer. I’d love to punch him. He’s blind too, an’ since you can’t punch blind people, that just makes me want to punch him more.”

Emil: “If he works with those kinds of folks, he probably has a lot of dirt on him. What’s stopping you from slapping him with the book?” Emil asks, wondering whether Lucky intends to answer his question about helping with the investigation but holding his tongue just a moment.

GM: “If we could, those kinds of folks wouldn’t work with him. Lawyers are real good at not doing illegal shit themselves. They’re the experts at it, right?”

Emil: “I’ll bet if you could look at him real close, with a strong enough magnifying glass, you’d see dirt. How couldn’t you? God made man out of the stuff to begin with! And if it ain’t on his skin, it’s gotta be hiding just under it, like some nasty pimple waiting for the worst time to crawl out and see the sun.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sure he’s got at least some dirt, if we looked close ‘nough. There just ain’t a lotta ways we can do that. Legally, anyway. I’ve seen DAs drop the ball on good cases ‘cuz they or we didn’t dot our i’s an’ cross our t’s. Hell, I seen him prove it more than once to cut his clients a sweeter deal. Throw out evidence as inadmissible.”

Lucky’s cheer seems to slowly fade. “Just how things are. Your old man once said bein’ a cop ain’t changin’ the world. It’s keepin’ things as they are.”

Emil: “Thought you said he wanted to make the world s better place? Whether or not he did it in the end, sounds like he didn’t see himself as much of a cop. And if not a cop, then what?”

GM: Lucky’s expression suddenly turns dark. “Don’t you tell me your old man wasn’t no cop. He was a damn good cop.

Emil: Lucky is lying. Emil can see it in the sweat on his brow, the growling insistence, the suddenness of his response that feels more like a mantra than an answer. Maybe that’s why Dad’s vault is empty. Lucky’s hiding the skeleton in his closet.

Emil pinches the bridge of his nose, shaking his head at Lucky. “Oh sure, damn fine cop. But we both know that he was more than that. And we both know that no matter how much you protest, I will find the truth.”

Emil pinches his fingers over his heart, pressing painfully into his chest. “I am my father’s son.”

He continues, shaking his head with disapproval, “And if it’s not from you, Lucky, it’s going to be from someone else. And if what they say about curiosity and cats is true, if this city is as dirty as you say, I hope you’ll have something good to say to my mother when I land in a hospital bed after asking the wrong person the right questions.”

Despite the finality of his ultimatum, Lucky can see a welling of tears in the corners of Emil’s dark eyes: the eyes of the child who was jus’ a kid, who saw truths beyond his years for the sake of his father, and who seeks to see it again in search of the very same man.

GM: Lucky’s eyebrows raise for a moment, but the surprise on his face is as flickering as a glimpse of the moon on a too-cloudy night—and still just as dark.

“Them questions are all wrong, kid. You gonna put yourself in a hospital bed, that’s on you. It ain’t gonna be ’cause of me.”

He rises from his seat and drops some dollar bills over the table, the pair’s dinner seemingly at an end. His voice softens for a moment as he turns to leave.

“All your mama and daddy wanted for you was a good life. I told you there’s nothin’ here. Nothin’ but ghosts.”

Emil: “If there’re ghosts here, that means they have things they wanted to say that they couldn’t. Things they wanted to do but didn’t. If a dead man crawled his way back from God’s rest, he’s got something to share worth listening to. If you don’t want to listen to them, I will.”

GM: “It’s your funeral, kid.”

With those last, sad words, Lucky disappears through the restaurant’s door.

Emil: Emil crushes a now-cool shrimp between his teeth. It tastes bitter. He sits there as the world passes around him and the light dips lower. Eventually he gets up and follows his father’s friend into the night air with one thing on his mind:

Whose vault door he’ll have to knock on to find the truth.


Saturday evening, 22 September 2007

Emil: Emil is on the hunt for information. He thinks that if he can build a profile about the woman who needed to die he might get a glimpse into the truth. He’s not sure whether her death would be reported, he bets that his father wouldn’t have let her death become public knowledge, that would be a liability. Perhaps, however; she could’ve been placed on the missing person’s list. He switches on his VPN and taps onto the tacky keys of his laptop the URL for LSU’s missing person database. He goes to the search bar and looks up the list of missing persons in New Orleans, and scrolls through the profiles, copying that of any woman whose disappearance date matches up with the year he was in first grade.

After doing so, Emil loads Qeeqle Maps, a new program with a brand new feature called street view, which allows Emil to check every location listed alongside the women and ‘walk’ through the area where they were last scene. He notes any areas that stick out to him on the document, anything that jogs his memory, if at all.

Following this, Emil looks into the histories of both his father and Lucky, searching through local newspaper archives at one of the University libraries. He takes notes before returning to his computer to search through archived chat-rooms and forum posts referring to the men. He also checks specifically for any reports of NOLA police having a child with them during investigations.

GM: Emil has his work cut out for him. LSU’s page has hundreds upon hundreds of results. The clunky and dated-looking site has no way of filtering results. Emil ends up using Qeeqle Advanced Search to look up “1992” and “New Orleans” under the “all these words” field. That chops down the number of profiles from hundreds to about 40. Eliminating the male profiles chops that down to about 20 names. Emil pastes the remaining female ones into a Word doc.

It’s not a needle in a haystack, but it’s good odds if he were to play Russian roulette with a that-many-chambered gun. Or chancy odds, as the reverse may be.

Jogging his memories of a location he saw from a completely different vantage point, in a moving vehicle, only briefly, on a dark and rainy night, when he was distracted, scared out of his wits, doesn’t remember the rest of the evening, and was six years old, is perhaps predictably unsuccessful.

Tulane’s Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, fortunately for Emil (and procrastinating students throughout the university) is open 24 hours a day.

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There are few online references to either Lucky or his father, perhaps little surprise given the man’s 1992 death, but printed ones are more common. Kane Sr. seems to have served on NOPD for quite a long while. It’s with a feeling of some oddness that Emil realizes he isn’t sure exactly how old his father was.

Some stories mention him catching this or that bad guy, receiving this or that commendation from his superiors. It’s pleasant enough to read, especially for a boy whose mother spoke little about his father.

And especially after his talk with Lucky.

Most of it’s of little enough relevance to Emil’s investigation, save that Sergeant Earl Kane is mentioned as one of the homicide detectives who investigated the 1973 murder of socialite Kathleen Andrews—the aunt of the disappeared 1992 Bianca Andrews.

Robert White was charged with the Kathleen murder. He was convicted and sent to the Farm for life.

Emil: Bianca. Why did you need to go?

Emil pulls out his laptop, types in the address of a website dedicated to Louisiana’s court records, and types in the name Robert White. Maybe if he can get a handle on the man that killed Kathleen—or at least the man the courts said killed Kathleen—he can figure out what happened with Bianca. The poorly built site seizes up at the search, the only indication of it hanging on an hourglass sprite flipping over and over in place of Emil’s cursor.

Come on, come on…

GM: The computer screen blips out as the room’s lights suddenly die.

Emil: Years of living in a state with more fault lines than cities drives Emil under the table by instinct, swaddling his laptop in his arms right before ducking under. He waits for the rocking. The silence before is the worst part.

GM: Yet unlike L.A., the expected tremors do not come. The computer lab room is silent as well as still.

Until the tremors do come. But they’re still not like L.A.‘s. There’s two of them, soft against the carpet.

They, and an indistinct set of legs, come to a stop.

Directly in front of Emil’s hiding place.

Emil: When did hide and seek become so unnerving? The lack of an earthquake stops Emil’s muscles from releasing their tension. He feels stiff like a mannequin, and he hates it. He avoids looking at whatever stands on those legs. He read a study once that if you’re trying to not be recognized by the mind as a human, you just have to cover certain portions of your face. It’s the fundamentals of camouflage. What passes for camouflage in this case is covering up most of his face with his hoodie. and trying to keep the whites of his eyes squinted so as to not reflect the light.

Emil pulls out the small wooden pencil that he was taking notes with and throws it as discreetly and as far as he can manage, hoping to distract the owner of the legs so that he can move out of the way in case they mean to cause whoever is in the library harm.

GM: There’s a split second of heart-hammering tension as sweat trickles down Emil’s back.

Then, the legs turn after the thrown pencil.

Emil: He almost wants to see their face, but the veritable river of sweat forming on his back is carrying him forcefully down the current of running the hell out of here. He bolts from underneath the desk, hoping his feet carry him to the exit faster than theirs.

GM: They don’t shout. They don’t talk. They just whirl—and then there’s the sudden thump of footsteps pounding against the carpeted floor after Emil’s. He runs like hell through the too-empty feeling building. Darkness presses ahead. Relentlessly thudding footfalls press from behind. Emil bursts past the library’s front doors, heart hammering in his chest, panting down too-small gulps of the warm night air.

Foot-shaped thuds still pound against his ears. Closer. Closer.

Emil: When Lucky said it’d be his funeral, Emil didn’t expect it to be that same evening. A couple nights of warning, maybe, but the same evening? That’s just absurd. He whispers a breathy prayer, as he is supposed to, not out of acceptance, but out of a desperate need to make noise, to breathe, to show God that he is alive and well and could use some of that outstretched arm business that he puts a shank bone on his seder plate every year to commemorate.

“שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד”

(“Hear o Israel, our Master is God, our Master is One.”)

In between his bounds, he takes a peek behind him, trying to make out the face of his assailant.

GM: The library door bursts open.

Weight smashes against Emil’s chest. His vision snaps 90 degrees as his back cracks against concrete. He kicks and thrashes. Impotently. The streetlights seem so distant. So sickly and warbling. Does anyone see? Will anyone help?

Emil claws desperately at the air over his face. To see. To know.

He screams as pain drives through his hand, and then he’s not screaming anymore, but choking. Suffocating. His lungs burn like fire before that flame all-too swiftly gutters out. As sight and sound spiral away into blackness, the amateur theologian’s final thought is of another piece of scripture:

יזוַיְהִי֩ כְהֽוֹצִיאָ֨ם אֹתָ֜ם הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ הִמָּלֵ֣ט עַל־נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ אַל־תַּבִּ֣יט אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַל־תַּֽעֲמֹ֖ד בְּכָל־הַכִּכָּ֑ר הָהָ֥רָה הִמָּלֵ֖ט פֶּן־תִּסָּפֶֽה:‎

(“And it came to pass, when they took them outside, that he said, ‘Flee for your life, do not look behind you, and do not stand in the entire plain. Flee to the mountain, lest you perish.’”)

“אל תסתכל מאחוריך.”‎

(“Do not look behind you.”)

View
Emil II, Chapter I
Prophets & Stories

“You must confront the darkness within to confront the darkness without.”
Cécilia Devillers


Saturday morning, 22 September 2007

GM: Emil’s seen flyers all around Tulane for the movie seeking actors. No experience required. No salary either, but there will be free food at the film shoots. Plus a fancy meal at the Commander’s Palace screening. And it’ll be something to put on college applications or under “volunteer experience.”

It’s good enough that Emil’s girlfriend Hillary decides they should give the next audition on Saturday morning a shot. It’s at a classroom in the McGehee school for girls in the Garden District.

Emil: The man is dressed in the traditional attire of exhausted college students: a sweater branded with the name of a university he doesn’t attend and a pair of jeans that are a little to baggy to be flattering. He wears a skullcap on the top of his head. “All right, all right, I’m coming!” he laughs after the young brunette who’s pulling him along, almost tripping over the floor.

Support: The teenage boy there in the classroom stares.

GM: A blonde girl sitting next to him on a fold-out chair smiles and gives Emil and Hillary a “thanks so much for coming” hello. Her name is Cécilia. The boy is Elliot. She asks them to “slate,” which as she helpfully explains, “is a movie term for giving your name and talent agency to the auditioners… though somehow I think we can skip the second of those.”

Support: Elliot glances over the two and when their turns come gives each a prompt.

The brunette’s is, “Tell me a secret.”

Elliot’s gaze is more focused on Emil.

“Tell me about yourself in the most interesting way you can.”

Emil: “Uh well, if you want to know about me I could tell you I’m a Jewish Comp Sci major… class of…”

He sees that this isn’t really what they’re looking for, so he breathes and switches gears.

“I know how to find out secrets. Given an hour or two, a phone book, and an Internet connection, I could find out the context of anybody’s lives. Who they are. How they present themselves. And if I had some time to chat with my rabbi, I could figure out anybody’s fundamental purpose.”

He stares Elliot right in the eyes. “I could find out who you are, but more importantly, why you are.”

Was that too much? Emil thinks. His lifts his arms up, showing his palms to the director. “Not that I would ever do that. That would be a couple hairs shy of a stalking charge. Not to mention the ethical issues.”

“Oh!” he remembers, turning to belatedly answer Cécilia’s question. “You can call me Em.” Every performer needs a pseudonym. Well, every performer whose go-to audition comprises of telling minors he can doxx them.

GM: The brunette, who simply gave her name as Hillary, looks amused.

“Oh, that’ll be easy to remember,” the younger blonde woman smiles. “It’s so close to his name—Em and El.”

“What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found out about someone through your rabbi, phone book, and internet connection?”

Support: Elliot chokes a little on his water but otherwise retains his composure. “Yeah, real easy,” he agrees.

“I’m interested, gotta admit,” he says in the meantime. “What are you looking for at an audition?”

Emil: “Oh, like I said I don’t think it would be very good to go snooping for info like that most of the time. But to give you an example of the stuff my rabbi can tell you… there’s always something pertinent in the meanings behind names,” ‘Em’ answers El with a shrug.

“To he honest, Hil sorta just dragged me along over here. But, you know I’ve always liked the movies and I like the idea of helping out a community project. Its been a while since I’ve had the chance. So I’d like to play a part if you have one in mind.”

“You have a real interesting name, El, know what it means?”

GM: “It’s another name for God, I think?” Cécilia supplies.

Support: “Yeah, I think my mother liked the sound of it more than the meaning. But I’ll bite, what’s it mean originally?”

Emil: “Your friend is right, it is, in its shortened form, a name of God. But back in the day, before the God of Abraham was widely known, your full first name, which I suspect is some translation of Elijahu, was of much more significance. Elijahu means my God is Yah. It was a defiant declaration of faith, of knowledge of who truly controls you despite being surrounded by other insects who claim divinity and through that seek control. You aren’t a servant of Dagon or Baal, and you can’t change this fact. Your subservience to your God is a part of you. And you even have the pleasure of knowing your master’s name.” Em expresses this with a great levity, like he’s retelling a childhood story.

“You know, Elijah was also a prophet. Every prophet gets to tell a story, sorta like what you’re doing with this movie. But the special part about Elijah is that instead of perishing before His word came to pass, his master took him from the world alive, by fire, to stay next to Him in His house. Forever.” Em is beaming, a little too excited for his own sake.

GM: “Oh wow, that’s a lot to have in a name,” Cécilia says. “But I guess it’s true that names have power. You obviously know a lot about religious studies, Em.”

Emil: “Oh, that’s nothing. My teacher says we’ve barely scratched the surface of knowledge to learn. Do you have much interest in religion yourself?”

Support: “Some,” El answers. “But I wasn’t raised in a churchgoing home. I know Cécilia was, though.” He beams at her.

“You seem to care a lot about meaning,” El says to the Jew. “What’s your own name mean, Em?”

Emil: Em smiles at El’s apparent interest, but then scrunches his brow a bit before answering, “Well, in the original language, ‘Em’ is an adjective, meaning pertaining, or perhaps, belonging to mother.”

Emil thinks for a moment before breaking into laughter.

“I guess that means I’m somewhat of a mama’s boy. I can’t disagree with that!” Em finishes as he calms down. “So what’s your movie gonna be about?”

GM: “It’s a love story, remember?” says Hillary, having watched her boyfriend’s lengthy exposition with some amusement.

“That’s right,” Cécilia nods, still smiling slightly over El’s churchgoing remark. “It’s a rags to riches story about a poor conwoman who falls in love with a handsome young heir, but his aunt is a horrible monster who gets in the way.”

“That’s an interesting subversion. Refreshing, actually. Usually it’s the guy trying to get the girl who’s better than him,” Hillary remarks.

“Yes, we wanted to do something refreshing. It’s 2007, after all. The girl can fight to get the boy too.”

“Yes, that sounds great,” Hillary nods. “But it does sound a little black and white to me too, no offense. Two people in love, a bad person gets in the way, and true love overcomes?”

“Oh, we’ve made sure to give it more depth than that,” Cécilia smiles. “The nuance isn’t in the aunt, but the heroine’s choices. When I say the aunt is a horrible monster, that might be the literal truth. Or it might not. The aunt isn’t ever mean to the heroine’s face, but there are disturbing hints about what she’s up to behind closed doors—things so disturbing she might not even be human. The heroine isn’t sure what to believe and wonders if she’s insane, because at the same time, the aunt makes her nephew very happy and actually encourages them to pursue a relationship together. But the more the heroine sees, the more she’s convinced their happiness may be built on an unspeakably awful lie. But she can’t simply expose the aunt without consequence, or even expose her at all—the aunt is powerful, connected, and she’s no one. So the heroine has to face some very hard questions about what she’s willing to do for love, what she can live with, and how much of this may just be in her head. There can’t be a happily ever after in this story: just an option that’s less distasteful.”

“Oh wow, that’s really dark-sounding,” Hillary comments, eyebrows raised. “Would you say that it’s a horror movie?”

Cécilia seems to think on that. “You know, we actually hadn’t really considered its genre. But now that you mention it, I’d say it definitely is. It’s only ambiguous whether it’s supernatural horror or psychological horror. Some or all of what’s happening could just be in the heroine’s head.”

She smiles at the two auditioners. “Hopefully that gives you both a better sense of what the movie’s about, anyway.”

Emil: Emil nods. “Thank you for explaining, but now I’m curious. Does the conwoman ever admit to her deceit? You know, out of love or something like that?”

GM: “You mean about who she is?” Cécilia shakes her head. “No. Though now that you mention it, that detail gets largely sidelined in favor of the plot with the aunt. I wonder if that’s a mistake.”

Emil: “Well I guess I assumed, since she’s a liar, she might make herself seem better than she is. Maybe you could include a redemption arc?”

GM: “Maybe you shouldn’t,” Hillary says thoughtfully. “Does the aunt get to redeem herself?”

Cécilia starts to answer, but Hillary preempts her with, “Rhetorical question. You want this to be a horror movie, and that’d be a really happy ending. But how much worse is the aunt than the conwoman, really? How many people has the conwoman hurt? Why should she get to redeem herself just because she’s the protagonist?”

“There’s a quote my mom likes, ‘Every person is the protagonist in their own story.’ Even the ones who are bad guys. It feels almost… excusing the conwoman, saying that because she’s the heroine, the protagonist, the center of her world, that she gets to be special. Am I making sense there?”

Emil: “You know, I think you bring up something really important there, Hil. Maybe, and I’m no storyteller so take this with a grain of salt, if you want to do something fresh, let the aunt alone redeem herself?”

GM: “Oh, just the aunt? Why her and not the conwoman?” Cécilia asks curiously.

Emil: “Because she’s the only one who is really suffering in the movie. She’s the one the audience will come to see as a monster. The other characters get off comparatively easy. Let the aunt fight for her image and you’ll have a nice twist,” Emil responds after some thought.

GM: “I don’t know… actually, no, I do,” Hillary frowns. “The aunt’s supposed to be a horrible monster who’s hurt people, isn’t she? So why should we feel bad for her just because the audience finds out? So she loses her reputation—that’s called getting caught. That isn’t suffering, that’s justice.”

Emil: “Because, Hil, I’m not sure the aunt is actually that bad. They said that we never see the aunt actually hurt anyone. If it’s told from the perspective of the conwoman, she could be twisting the narrative to justify her actions. What if we get to see the aunt’s side of the story in the end of the film?”

GM: “That’s true,” Hillary thinks. “So the conwoman was actually just mistaken about the whole thing. The aunt being a monster was actually a con she was pulling on herself. The real monster all along was her.”

“I wonder though, if we can already switch roles like that and have the conwoman turn out to be the real monster, could she redeem herself too? And how do you have her redeem herself and still face justice?”

“I’d first say the aunt being a monster is a matter of perception, but the conwoman being one is an objective fact,” Cécilia raises. “Crimes are crimes, and the conwoman can’t simply spin her way out of those. Twisting other peoples’ perspectives is what she’s always done. She has to admit to that, to her crimes, and other people’s perspectives—society’s—mattering more than hers.”

“That makes sense, then,” Hillary says. “The conwoman simply has to admit what she did was wrong. She has to be honest for once, and willing to face the consequences.”

Cécilia nods. “If the conwoman is caught and tells us she’s sorry, it’s hard to believe she really is—or at least sorry for anything besides getting caught.”

“Crocodile tears,” Hillary remarks.

“Yes,” Cécilia says. “For those tears to be human, she has to confess what she’s done when she thinks she can get away with it. She must be willing to face justice. But just as important as justice is mercy. The people she’s hurt can choose to forgive her, and absolve her of any consequences besides a humbled pride. Redemption is a two-way process. The criminal tries to prove they’re worthy of it, and the victim recognizes when they are.”

“So the conwoman could redeem herself, just like the aunt might not actually be a monster,” Hillary says. “That’d be a really happy ending. But is it the best story?”

Emil: “Horror is nothing without contrast. I don’t think redemption in itself has to lead to a happy ending. You know the story of Samson and Delilah? Samson broke his oath with God for the love of Delilah and he suffered immensely, getting humbled from a man who could kill a thousand men with an animal’s jawbone to a cripple with his eyes gouged out. His story was horrific, but he did redeem himself in the end, by sacrificing his life to tear down the temple of Israel’s enemies.”

GM: “That’s true,” Hillary remarks. “The conwoman could redeem herself. But the nephew or the people she’s hurt could always refuse to forgive her. Just because she does the right thing doesn’t mean that other people have to.” She frowns. “I don’t think I like that ending, though. It’s unfair. Samson gets recognized as a hero in the end, it just costs him.”

“I think I like that kind of ending more than one where the aunt turns out not to be a monster and the conwoman redeems herself, too. You shouldn’t be able to essentially just handwave what you’ve done away—redeeming yourself should cost something.”

Support: The young director is an unusually well-groomed young man for his age, and Em gets the distinct impression he’s a little at a loss, a situation perhaps unfamiliar to him. He’s been listening to their discussion first with the kind of polite silence of somebody who knows the work obsessively well but is waiting to hear what others have to say, then with what looks like a kind of touched surprise as the girl—maybe some kind of romantic partner, from the body language, but it’s hard to parse the boy’s exact relation towards her—-starts to talk about his project’s insides and outs, as attentively and thoughtfully as if it were her own.

Then that expression grows thoughtful and steadily still (morose?) as the group discusses the ending.

“I guess I’m wondering what redemption looks like when truth becomes dangerous. The obvious answer is she comes clean, shares everything—but that also seems too clean. What redeems a liar when the most dangerous thing they can do is tell the truth?”

The question seems directed at all of them, but he’s watching Cécilia’s face.

GM: “I’d say that’s the whole point of redemption,” Cécilia considers. “It has to cost the wrongdoer something. They have to give of themselves for others, not just to make right the wrongs they’ve done, but to show us they’ve had a change of heart. So Samson in the story gives his life to defeat Israel’s enemies.”

“Now the wrongdoer might also think, why should they ever do that. Who wants to die or pay some other price when they could get to live instead, and not? How does redemption pay?”

“You could say, again, the whole point of redemption is supposed to be thinking about others. But the wrongdoer is actually saving themselves too.”

Cécilia seems to think. “In fact… let’s assume for a moment the aunt really is a monster, and of course the conwoman already is. Now let’s say she doesn’t redeem herself to the nephew, and doesn’t come clean.”

A dawning look comes over Cécilia’s face. “Actually… I think I’ve got something that could be the perfect ending for this movie. Something that’s pure horror. Even more than the original script.”

“The best horror doesn’t just show the monster as an external threat to defeat. It makes the monster an internal threat too, that says something unsettling about the protagonist and forces them to confront their own failings and weaknesses. It blurs the line between the monster and the protagonist. I’d start by drawing parallels between what the aunt and conwoman have in common.”

“How they’re both hurting people,” Hillary says. “The conwoman isn’t wrong the aunt is a monster, but the conwoman is still one too. Though it’s more than even that, there’s lots of kinds of monsters. But the aunt and the conwoman are both liars.”

“Exactly,” Cécilia agrees. “They’re both lying to someone—actually, the same person, the nephew—in pursuit of happiness. They’re after the same thing.”

“Why, though?” asks Hillary. “What’s making the conwoman do this, lie to and hurt someone we’re supposed to believe she loves? Monsters aren’t born, most of the time, they’re made.”

Support: “A monster? I wouldn’t go that far. She wants love and light in her life like anybody else. The things she does to get it are wrong, but I think her crime is a teenager’s crime, a mistake made for human reasons. She’s manipulative and imperfect, but I’d hope also a sympathetic figure.”

His tone sounds curious.

GM: “I don’t think so,” Cécilia says, shaking her head. “Maybe if the aunt wasn’t in this, and the conwoman wasn’t going after the nephew. But the aunt is, and the conwoman is. It’s because like draws like. The conwoman is drawn to them, both of them, because she’s repeating history. If she’s lying to the person she loves, she’s probably done it before. Maybe past loves, but if you want to get to the heart of it, I’d say she’s lied to her family. And hurt them very badly. She’s looking for love here because she’s lonely. She hopes she can find it this time, but she’s repeating the same mistakes as last time.”

“So that explains why she’s after the nephew. But where does the aunt fit into this?” asks Hillary. “You said the conwoman was drawn to her.”

Cécilia nods. “There’s another quote, I don’t remember who it’s by or even how it goes—but we see things we wish weren’t true about ourselves in the people we most dislike.”

“How the aunt and the conwoman are both liars after the nephew’s affection,” Hillary raises.

“Oh, but it’s not even just the nephew,” says Cécilia. “I think the aunt is actually more important to the conwoman than the nephew.”

“The conwoman sees herself mirrored in the aunt, who’s a horrible monster. Not just who she is, but who she could be—a liar who’s gotten away with all the horrible things she’s done, which are so much worse than the conwoman’s, yet still manages to win the nephew’s love.”

“The conwoman is simultaneously intrigued, aroused, and repulsed by this. The aunt is everything about the conwoman she hates and fears, yet also wishes is true.”

“And that’s why the conwoman is doomed, and her pursuit of the nephew with the aunt involved can only end in failure and tragedy. Because you must confront the darkness within to confront the darkness without. For the conwoman, that would mean coming clean, and proving she actually is different from the aunt.”

“And the truth always comes out,” Hillary fills in. “Maybe it takes a while, but it always does. The conwoman found out about the aunt, after all, and she’s a better liar and worse monster than the conwoman is. That’s why con artists always move on, because people wise up eventually. You can’t fool someone forever. But the conwoman is looking for love—something you can’t just move on from.”

Cécilia nods. “The conwoman has forgotten that. She’s played herself and fallen victim to her own con—so she will lose the nephew and the love she hoped to obtain. Not because of the aunt. Because of herself.”

“That’s what we call a tragedy in the literary sense of the term—it’s not simply something sad that happens, like stubbing your toe, or even your mother suddenly dying. It’s when the protagonist brings about their own doom through a fatal flaw they could have forseen, but didn’t. It makes us throw up our hands and say ‘if only you’d done that! You could have gotten a happy ending!’ because it was so sadly, tragically preventable.”

Cécilia smiles at Elliot. “I’m so glad we had Em and Hil over, El. They’ve given us the best ending for this movie yet.”

Support: “Some people just have that magic touch,” El agrees, his mood twisting like a ballerina with broken heels. “Well, we’ll remember you two, that’s for sure—we already have your callback information, right?”

He walks them both to the door after they’ve finished chatting. “That was a nice conversation you two got rolling. I have to thank you for that.” He offers a hand first to the woman, then to Emil. His grip is comfortable and cool, but not strong.

“How did you find us, if you don’t mind me asking?” he asks the man.

Emil: Emil takes the young man’s hand, his shake by contrast is a little too firm for comfort. “It was fate. And also a flyer. But fate is definitely in there somewhere, I’m sure. Hill actually is the one who found out initially, isn’t that right?”

GM: “Yeah,” she nods. “I think my mom and Cécilia’s have met each other a few times too.”

“Oh really, who is she?” Cécilia asks.

“Noelle Cherry.”

“I thought I recognized you from somewhere,” Cécilia smiles. “Congratulations to her on becoming majority leader.”

“Thanks. We were all really proud.”

Support: “Oh? My mom voted for her,” El says. “You should invite her to the screening, in any case, especially if we call you back. I’m sure she’d love to see you on the screen, and the more big names, the better for publicity.”

GM: “I’ll ask,” Hillary nods. “Commander’s Palace is great even if you weren’t doing the screening there.”

Support: “I know, I’d probably be looking forward to the meal as much as the movie if it was somebody else’s baby,” El laughs. “How’d you two meet?”

GM: “We both go to Tulane, and we took some classes together,” Hillary answers. “Anyway, we’re sure you’ve got other people waiting to audition. Good luck.”

Emil: Before the couple leave, Emil takes a worn notepad out of his bag, scrawls an address on the little room remaining on the paper unstained by poorly erased calculations and drawings, tears the strip and hands it to El.

“You two seem like particularly intelligent and spirited people. If you’re interested in learning some deep truths about the world you live in, give me a call and come to this address for a study session. It might just change your life… if you’re open to it.”

Support: “That’s nice of you to offer, thank you,” El says, taking it with a smile and glancing at Cécilia.

Emil: Emil smiles back and takes his leave with Hill.

All things told, it’s been a good audition.

View
Story Ten, Emil III, Emmett IX
Emmett's Flight

“The Catholics’ greatest hubris was in assuming that their sin starts in their hearts and ends in a confessional.”
Emil Kane


Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Emmett: “Whoa. Did she…”

Em glances around. “Did you see her go?”

Emil: “I—after today, Emmett, after you leave this room, after you get down off this high, you need to know that none of this happened, your drugs were laced with psychedelics.”

Emmett: Em eyes him. “You want to stay here for when she comes back?”

Emil notices his Action Bill and the Danger Squad boxers. They’re super rare.

Emil: “I’ve turned off the feed for my associates. It doesn’t exist anymore, nothing onward.”

“But I’m watching it now.”

Emmett: “Well, if you want to watch it here, you’ll share. And you’ll stop talking to me like I didn’t save your fool life.”

Em sits on the couch, his legs spread. “Your guy under there want a drink?”

Emil: There’s that same buzzing in the man’s earpiece, then he picks up the laptop and types the words No, but thanks for asking, Emmett, into a text document which he turns so Em can see it.

He types a few more buttons and the stream of the house opens on Emmett’s television. He goes to deadbolt the door, his earpiece buzzing the whole way through, and then he returns to his seat.

“All right, let’s see what she’s doing to that monster.”

Emmett: “Sounds good to me.”

He tries to ignore the surreality of Emil’s face on somebody else’s and focus on the feed.

“Wait, is she… already there?”

But that swiftly becomes the least of his questions.

GM: They watch it all play out.

It ends with Celia blurring out of the house with her mom held like a limp potato sack.

Emmett: “Fuck.”

This is real. He knows it’s real. Emil’s snark aside, he can tell the difference between a bad trip and shit that feels like it should be a bad dream.

He’s been in a bad dream like this before.

“Fuck,” he says again. “She’s a superhero.”

GM: It seems like an open question whether he ever woke up.

Emil: “If you ever let any one know, they’ll kill the both of you,” the voice says robotically.

Emmett: “Which they? The X-Men?”

Emil: “Do you care about her, Emmett?” It’s spoken genuinely.

Emmett: “Apparently,” he says, surprising himself. “I’m more worried for her than scared of her. So I guess.”

Emil: “She trusts you. Should she?”

Emmett: “Why shouldn’t she? She’s the most interesting thing to happen to me since jail.”

Emil: “Because you have a history of lying to people you care about. Of hurting them,” the voice says bluntly.

GM: This has happened before.

Emmett: Em takes a slow drink of the tea Celia didn’t touch. Then he says, “You seem to feel awfully superior to me, for somebody who talked about starting a religious movement with me at the center. And who wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t decided to put myself in jeopardy by helping.” He gives Emil an icy, icy stare through those red eyes. Wherever he is, whatever dark hole he’s hiding in to forget about all the people he’s fucked over, the man feels cold. “I’m going to say it one more time. You’re not going to question my relationships, Kane. And I won’t question yours. Not if you want anything from me, ever again. Not if you don’t want me to bad-mouth you so hard to Celia she cuts ties with you, too. You understand that?”

“Because if you don’t, there’s the door.” He points.

GM: The video keeps playing in Celia’s room.

All of it.

Emmett: “Fuck,” Em says, again. He’s too numb to be mad at Emil. “Wow. She’s… wow.”

GM: Isabel laughs.

Emmett: He finds himself, absurdly, reaching for not-Emil’s hand. He needs to touch someone. Needs to know there is something more than this.

GM: Isabel laughs and laughs and laughs.

“Mm-mmf y! Mm-mmf y! M-myy-mmm-f-y!”

Emil: There’s a buzzing in his ear, and then not-Emil grips Emmett’s just as tightly. “I’m so sorry, Emmett.”

The static sobs.

“-I really am.”

Emmett: “Yeah,” Em says, watching. “Me too.”

Then he says, “She’s going to need friends. Celia. After this.”

Emil: “She needs better friends than us. But we’re what she has. So we have to do bett—”

Then there’s the sound of footsteps from the television, and Emil goes silent.

GM: The two men see their source.

Enough of it.

Then the camera shorts out.

Emmett: “Shit.”

Emil: The image runs back and forward in time, and grayscale tears rip across as the screen. And then it pauses on the final frame.

On that face.

GM: Maxen’s face.

Emmett: “How.”

“The house. Her sister. We need to call 911. Can you bounce the call, or something?”

Emil:They have arrived.”

A buzz sounds. The man who is not Emil points a gloved finger at the devil’s face.

“He owns the police.”

They own him.”

Emmett: “Not the police,” Em says. “Ambulance.”

Emil: “Everything is connected. Everyone is listening. Hell is empty and the devils are all here.”

Emmett: “Can you do it?” he asks again. “The girl. Maxen might not.”

Emil: “There are rules about this, Emmett. They don’t want to be seen. They don’t want to be known. The fewer people involved, the fewer people die.”

Emmett: “What they. They who.”

Emil: “The Catholics’ greatest hubris was in assuming that their sin starts in their hearts and ends in a confessional.”

“Sin gestates in the gutters of the church. Sin mingles in the sewers with the discarded holy water. Sin dives into the depths to take form.”

“And one man or another stares down into the abyss. And eventually, Sin stares back.”

The quiet erupts into the sound of the darkest depths. Maxen’s face shatters into an avalanche of snow, and white noise swallows all.



Emil: The snow undulates on the screen, a great sea parting and coming together. The black gaps that are torn open when the sea parts are alive and filled with mouths, stretched wide open by ink-covered hands until the jaws threaten to snap apart.

The gestalt cries out at Emmett.

It screams for their mothers. For their fathers. For Gods they forgot to believe in. For the sins they’ve carried out and forgotten to admit. For all the pain to end; for their mouths to finally shut.

But it is the nature of the gestalt to lose all self. For all the screams and prayers to be shunted into meaningless babble. Everyone screams for the same things, but nothing is heard. Nothing but white noise.

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The waves of static crash into the dark mass of writhing mouths, smothering their cries. But another window into the darkness is opened as the static shallows.

The screen focuses not on the gaping mouths within, but on the precipice of the writhing shallowing of darkness. There’s a fishing boat riding over the static, standing precariously close to the edge. And beside them juts an island out of the waters. Atop the island, which is covered in shining jewels, sits the Fisher King on his ivory stump, his crown nearly slipping off his head.

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The fisherman throws his line into the great maw of the dark, and from the writhing masses pulls a single screaming mouth. And the mouth has a face that appears when it comes flailing out of the water into the static. It’s bald and ugly and red-faced. The fishhook stabs through the man’s head.

The fisherman examines the bald thing on the hook as it tries to extend a suited hand. It looks pathetic, for surely it knows it is too late to make deals. He’s already hooked. The fisherman holds the man in his arms like a babe, then brings him to his face and opens his mouth, revealing two blood-red fish-hooks jutting out of its roof.

He bites through the man’s chest and rips his heart out. It’s bound with tight ropes. He crushes it with his jaws, and oily black fluid spurts out all over the boat. A drop or two falls in the bald man’s mouth as his body drops to the deck of the ship, his arm still extended, waiting for a handshake that will never come.

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The screen floods with the static snow.

Then, a voice befitting a nature doc narrator speaks in dulcet tones, “Peredur lived among witches when he found his one true love…And the Fisher King’s servant brought out the head to Peredur on a platter, who waited far too long to act on his destiny. And the head was that of his cousin. And Peredur learned he was in the line of the Fisher King, and rose to action, for he found his cousin was killed by the witches, though some say it was witch hunters, for Peredur sought them for his king’s acceptance.”

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“And the servant who held up that platter had little respect for the young Peredur, for Peredur knew little of fishing, while he had fished for generations. Some say the servant made deals with witches to better understand the fish, and that in the moonlight, his eyes were unlike that of any human. Instead, they were like those of the hungriest of sharks.”

The audio commentary melts into something grainy and unintelligible, and then Emmett sees something else forming on the screen.

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The waters are black as they gush from the bound heart. The moonlight reflects off them, reducing their cusps and contours to streaks of moving light.

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It’s far too quiet now. The sound of the white noise dulls his senses, stuffing his ears with cotton and blinding his eyes to seeing anything beyond rectangular specks of black and white. Something is waiting beneath the surface.

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A diving woman swims out into the open ocean. Oily handprints still stain the skin around her jaw, but those are nothing but past scars. Today she’s free, to go anywhere. Be anything. Separated from the gestalt, the possibilities seem endless.

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But there is always something watching. No place you can be truly free when there are those who cut through the static like you walk on land.

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The woman breaks the surface of the inky water, and finds it impenetrable to her view from above. She pulls herself up into the massive fishing boat, where the fisherman servant to the Fisher King had sat.

But he’s not there.

There’s a bald man in a suit with an ink-covered arm extended. His heart has been ripped out, leaving an inky pit in its place. There’s a hole that a fishhook once pierced.

Beside him is a dark-haired girl, or perhaps its just her hair is drenched in the oil. She’s curled into a ball and caressing her leg, which is wrapped in static fishing line. It cuts deep welts into her flesh.

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Then the screen turns dark. And he hears it. Screaming. Awful. The grinding of flesh on rock, of hooks stabbing and shearing.

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And then there’s that face pushing through the screams, here and not here. Nearly pressing out of the television.

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And the room is plunged into ice at its stare. The servant fisherman stares right into Emmett’s eyes. Then he starts to open his mouth, and the fishhooks look like sharp teeth jutting out, ready to bite.

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Then a splash and the ice recedes, as the static sea swallows the diver whole, and the weight of the world above drags her lower and lower into the abyss.

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The shark-eyed servant dives too, into the murky depths, unencumbered by the static and the oil.

The nature doc narrator speaks again, his voice cutting through the thickness of the waters. “Due to a peculiar organ called the olfactory bulb, great white sharks can smell a drop of blood from three miles away!”

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Bzzt.

“Once a shark finds a target, they never give up on the hunt. Blood giveth way to deeper blood. They’re watching.”

Bzzt.

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Bzzt.

“His.”

Bzzt.

“All his”

Bzzt.

“Donovan,” Celia’s voice pierces through Emmett’s head, clear as the cold night sky.

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They take what they want.

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You know you are theirs.

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They’re on a boat now, fishing together. And there is the shape of a woman made of pure jade, to whose face a mask is tied, Celia’s face painted on it, smiling.

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They open their mouths and fishhooks jut out blood-red and dripping with hunger.

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The view draws back, and Emmett sees the true extent of the unmentionable They. Seventy and seven fishing boats sit at the perilous circumference of the pit of gestalt screaming. Fishermen stand at the ready in each one, a pair of fishhooks jutting out of the rooves of each of their mouths. Each of them fish humans out of the pit, dragging them screaming into their boats on their barbed lines. They bite through their flesh and then toss them back, limp, into the pit.

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The static flows on the screen as the view pushes in on a few fishermen paddling from the glimmering island of the Fisher King. But fishhooks do not jut out of their mouths, and there still remains oil on their skin, covered by the thick clothing of ferrymen.

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They pull down the way of the dark flow.

And the one holding the long-stemmed paddle turns to the other, and speaks in soft tones. “Just around the river bend, we’ll find the one who’s near her end.”

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“Hold your tongue until you die, for They are watching you and I.” The paddle moves, and it seems to stretch down eternally into the oil.

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The men remove their black cowls and whip the lashes of their fishing rods into the oily darkness.

And that’s when he sees it. It’s him, sitting down in the fishing boat, though his handsome face is rendered monstrous, drenched in the thick black oil. Barbed fishing line is wound tightly around his legs, and further spurts of oil leak out where the wire breaks his skin.

The oil-drenched Emmett looks with harrowed eyes out of the television, into the similarly harrowed eyes of his twin sitting on the couch. He’s holding his father’s tackle box, old and rusted, but free of oil-stains.

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And he sees the face of the other man, and he is Emil, mostly. He has eight eyes in place of his two, which stare out in all different directions. The hairs of his skin stand up at attention and stamp themselves down into his pores, forcing the black oil from leaking out into the world.

“Why save her, if she’s going to lose it all?”

“We aren’t saving her. We’re making her whole again.”

The lines tug, and with a pull of the rod, the two men find their catch. It’s a damp mop of black hair mostly, with the oil-drenched body of a girl attached. She’s missing far too much, far more than they are equipped to repair.

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Her face is gone, punched out. There’s nothing left inside, nothing to see beyond the oil. But something further is missing.

It sits in their tackle box.

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Her leg has gone gangrenous and black from the sharp wire digging far deeper than could be construed as pleasant. Emmett can smell it even through the mask of the television. Dead. Horrid. Unmentionable.

“She doesn’t need health where she’s going. She needs to be whole, a façade is all that’s necessary, a mold for what is to come.”

And the oil-covered Emmett stabs the crude appendage back onto her foot. There’s a slick crunch as the metal rod that affixes it forces its way into place.

She doesn’t scream. She can’t. But the hole in her face shakes violently in protest and the oil that pools in the gap spills out into the form of the ship.

Emil bends to whisper something into the woman’s ear to give her something else. Another thing she’s lost. And Emmett can hear it, if just barely.

“Though your heart may rest in pious hands, your name shall reside with rocks and sand.”

There’re two things to do when you catch a carp, Emmett. Either you kill it quick or you let it go. Anything else is cruel.

The pair heave the body, and finally, let it drop. There’s a splash, and then the seafoam static swallows the scene once more.

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GM: But from the static, a face emerges.

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And behind the face, an apartment.

Em’s apartment.

He is coming.

Emmett: Em stares at the screen. He dares not blink, lest the closing of his eyes destroy the madman’s montage playing out on the mob-fenced television. His teeth chatter, though it is not cold. Tea, merely warm instead of scalding, sloshes from his lopsided mug onto his groin, ruining the mint-condition cotton thumb of Action Bill and staining his couch besides. He does not notice.

It is only when that face emerges, clearer and somehow more chilling than any of the macabre omens that preceded it, only when the television makes a promise he cannot ignore, that he blinks.

And speaks.

“Um.”

Then he reaches between the cushions and pulls out a gun.

Emil: Then there’s a buzz, and it’s when he looks to his side that he sees not-Emil disconnecting a cable from the laptop and stuffing it and the laptop into his backpack. He’s holding a black, metal hard drive.

Emmett: “Ah, damn, the ammo’s in there somewhere.” He rummages under the cushions for a second and pulls out a clip.

Emil: Another buzz, and then he turns to see the gun.

“What the hell are you doing with that thing?” He sounds cold, pumped through with adrenaline.

Emmett: “Exercising my Second Amendment rights,” he says as he loads it. “Your boy have a car outside?”

He considers slapping Emil when he doesn’t immediately answer, but then realizes it probably won’t translate.

Emil: He turns off the television, and the monster’s face disappears into blackness.

He sticks his head into the bag and when it comes out, he isn’t wearing Emil’s face. But his true face is covered by a skintight black mask.

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“Outside. Now.” He sounds frazzled, but focused, as the blind man throws the backpack over his shoulders and heads to the door, before looking behind and chiding,

“And get your finger off the goddamned trigger! It’s not a toy.”

There’s a rushing noise, and then the sound of sliding before a series of taps, and then more rushing, more sliding, before the sound fades out.

This man is used to running.

Emmett: So is Em.

Track!

When Emmett emerges from the apartment precious moments later, he’s still wearing the crotch-stained Action Bill and the Danger Squad underwear, but he’s weighed down by a bulky-looking duffel bag.

It takes him a few moments to catch up to his “guest.”

Emil: It takes even fewer for the perfectly average-looking car to drive by. A door opens and strong arms rip him off the street and throw Emmett into the car.

The door slams. It never stopped moving. Now it’s going faster.

Emmett: “Fuck!” he yelps.

He barely manages to hold onto the gun. He’s still brandishing it as he sits up. “Who!”

Emil: “Put the gun down you maniac. Use your head.” There’s someone else driving. The black-masked man still speaks with Emil’s voice, as he scrubs through the video on his laptop, picking out unsatisfactory pieces of film and cutting them out with a few clicks.

“Who do you think?”

Emmett: “Jesus—fuck!” He lowers the gun, but keeps it close. “Is that the footage? Where are you sending it?”

Emil: “It is. And I’m not. You are. All clear?” The gloved fingers of the blind man move strikingly fast over the keyboard.

Emmett: “No?”

Emil: It’s quiet for a moment excepting the sound of tapping plastic keys.

“That was the sound of me waiting for you to ask a question so you can be made clear. Go.”

Emmett: Oh. Now he’s the wiseass.

“What are you planning?” Em asks. “And what about Celia? What about…him?”

Emil: “I’m planning on doing what I promised Celia I’d do, and that is getting this hard drive to the person she trusts. Right now, that’s you.”

“On this drive,” he says, and with a buzz has the man hold it in the air, “there is a single program which accesses a secure server that holds the video I just edited. I stripped it down to essentials. Celia isn’t in there. Nothing they wouldn’t want seen is in there. Whoever has this drive controls the fate of her father. She likely gave you instructions on how to handle it from there.”

“Don’t tell me them. We need to keep our minds clean of excess knowledge. I already let you see far too much.”

With a buzz, not-Emil hands Emmett the drive.

Emmett: “Fuck,” he says, trying to process that. “Okay. Okay. Is she…” Alive? he doesn’t trust himself to say it. Instead he clears his throat, opens the bugout bag and rifles through it for a shirt, which he swiftly pulls on. He tucks the letter that he pulled off the table, the one Celia wants him to give to the guy at House of Blues, into the bag as well.

“Where are you going to drop me?” Em says, as he continues to pull on clothes.

He takes the drive and it joins the letter in the bag.

Emil: “No dropping. We’ll be driving until dawn. But we’ll be swapping cars soon enough. Can’t risk someone catching our trail. There’s a pickup coming up through across an unmonitored alley in about ten.”

“In the meantime I’ve took the liberty of breaking into your apartment’s surveillance setup and replacing all recent footage of you, Celia, or me entering or exiting the building with generic footage.”

Emmett: “My apartment doesn’t have—wait, what?” His head is spinning. “What happens at dawn?”

Emil: “It does. They just don’t tell you. Helps keeps their insurance bills down. And what happens at dawn, is that They go to ground. Get ready.”

“7. 6. 5—”

The door slides open as a great amount of buzzing occurs in the man’s ear. The pair jump out whether Emmett is ready or not, with their backpack and duffel bag.

“3. 2—”

They’re running out and the movement shuts the car door back. Another car pulls up on the other end of the alley. Not-Emil points out the few cameras that were deactivated so they could make their way unseen. Easy to ignore as the pickup opens the door and once again Emmett is thrown into the car before not-Emil jumps in.

“1.”

The door shuts again. Not-Emil breathes a sigh of relief.

“0.’

Emmett: “They—wait, what.”

He runs. He ignores Emil’s tour-guiding.

He slams the door shut beside him. “How many times are we doing this?”

Emil: “As many as it takes. I have cars all over the city. Bulk purchase. Donations. What have you. Drivers don’t ask many questions.”

Emmett: Em stops asking questions. He has a feeling the answers will only make his head spiral more.

He cooperates, though, and falls into the pattern. It’s like track. Sprint spurts between rests.

Where to stay, during the day? His apartment’s probably unsafe. Miranda? Maybe a Pavaghi? His sister? Fucking Taylor?

Emil: Regardless of where it is, Emil’s not gonna be there. Or maybe he will. He keeps his associate’s lips so tightly shut Emmett can’t even see them. Though the mask might be the cause of that more than Emil’s secrecy.

He warns Emmett again on the importance of keeping all of this to himself. All of it. A lick of this releases and everyone they love dies.

He provides a change of clothes for Emmett and himself at each car swap, and they get to see much of the city, though its beauty is hard to appreciate running from certain death.

Right before they diverge, as they spend the last few swaps in separate cars to distance themselves, Emil shares one more pearl of wisdom.

Not-Emil opens the door to let Emmett out and tells him, “I figured you two were sleeping together and you might not be able to do that anymore. So I thought it might help if I let you know.”

He coughs.

“Celia’s your cousin.”

The door slams shut and the tires squeal, leaving Emmett alone in an alley.


Thursday morning, 2 April 2009

Emmett: Emmett swears.

He staggers through the morning light, duffel bag knocking against his side like it’s trying to pull him back. The early, bleach-colored sunlight hurts his eyes. He wants a smoke so bad his lungs crave a cough. His head pounds with a come-down he should have known was coming.

He walks. Buys a hot-dog from a stand. The guy behind the counter’s wearing an eyepatch, and he looks sorry for Em.

Say what you like about me, Em thinks ruefully, I’m too good to wear a costume to sell hot dogs. Even if I did fuck my—

He manages to keep the hot dog down, with effort. His mouth tastes like mustard, but it goes down his throat like mustard gas.

He walks.

Emmett: He passes a woman selling flowers. He buys the reddest ones. They stig his nose and he sneezes in the face of a homeless man, who he only momentarily recognizes as a private detective he hired a few weeks back.

“Sorry,” he says, and keeps walking.

He ends up in Marigny. The sun’s rising, and its rays are beating him into the ground.

He gets to the door he doesn’t realize he’s been walking to, and knocks.

GM: There’s no immediate answer.

She isn’t much on an early riser either.

Em has to bang and pound his fists until they hurt before a shadow darkens the peephole.

The door opens. Sami’s wearing a black nightgown and looks like she just got out of bed. Her hair is mussed, her face isn’t made up, and her expression looks none too pleased at being woken up early. Her eyes are crusted with sleep. It’s a rather less sexy picture than their normal dates.

What?

Emmett: He isn’t on his knees. That would lay it on too thick. But then, he doesn’t need to lay it on much at all. The tears glittering on his cheeks, tracing the shape of his face, are real enough.

She has only seen him cry like this once before. On the worst night of both their lives.

“I need you,” Em whispers. “I need, I need help, Sami. There’s nobody else. Please. Please let me in. I need you.”

He looks like death.

Will she turn him away, he wonders? Her best client, and the only person who says he really loves her and thinks he means it?

He is desperate, but he is cynical, too.

Sami Watts likes it when he needs her.

GM: She looks at him for a moment.

Then she undoes the switch, opens the door, and lets him collapse into her arms. Her fingers are so soft as they run through his hair.

“What the fuck have you gotten into…”

She kicks the door closed.

Emmett: My cousin.

“I just…just…”

He shakes his head. It’s too much to tell her.

“It’s like it was. Monsters. Things. They won’t find me, but I can’t go home. I tried to help her. I tried to do the right thing, but I think the monsters know who I am now and I can’t go back.”

He hugs her to him.

Hating himself. Loving her. Both. The same. A snake, eating its tail.

GM: They sink onto Sami’s bed. Em’s not sure when they do. It’s not day yet, not really, but it’s bright enough he doesn’t need the lights on to make out her face. Dawn’s navy shadows suit her. That in-between time and space where the monsters might be gone, but maybe they aren’t, and Em doesn’t know where he stands, where he doesn’t know anything, except that needs someone, someone as broken and damaged as he is, because it’s is fault, and maybe it is this time too, and—

She’s warm. She’s soft. She’s there.

“Fuck,” she mutters.

Emmett: There. And that’s so much more than anybody else.

“Fuck,” she says, and he hears it as a command, the way he’s been trained to for a year.

Fuck. All he’s good for. All he’s good at. Fuck. The only thing he can offer.

He pulls at her nightgown, dries his tears on her thighs. He does what he’s good at. He rewards her for her love, her pride, her hospitality.

He worships her.

When they’re done, Em just wants to sleep. Not talk. He barely has the willpower to set an alarm for himself.

GM: Em’s gotten head from Sami lots of times, though it’s his first time giving it to her. She seems to enjoy it, twisting the sheets in her hands and gasping as her back arches with her climax. He’s not met many women who didn’t enjoy, from him. Any, really.

The last words he makes out before they collapse into sleep together are a sighed, “This is a bad idea.”

Emmett: If only you knew, baby, he thinks.


Thursday morning, 2 April 2009

GM: Em is jolted awake what feels like barely any time later by pounding fists against Sami’s door.

NOPD! Open up! Now!”

Emmett: He’s already having a nightmare. The reality doesn’t take more than a second to adjust to. He’s still waking up as he presses his lips to Sami’s ear as she starts awake. “Sixty seconds. Get the door in sixty seconds. Lie. I’m not here, I never was. They don’t know anything. Ask to see a warrant.” Then he moves. Close to the floor, way the fuck out of the line of sight of any of the windows.

His heart is thumping. But he doesn’t have time to be knocked over by it. He takes five seconds to decide. Out the window or hide? Hiding’s bad if they know he’s here. But they don’t. They just think he might be? Right?

It’s a gamble. But if he leaves, and they’re waiting for him, he’s fucked anyways.

He hides. He’s tired of running, and if they’re going to get him, better Sami sees him go out. He’s not letting them take him.

The bag he stuffs in her closet under a pile of clothes. Sami’s plenty messy and always has been. That takes fifteen seconds, including the time it takes to grab the drive, the letter, and the gun. The flowers come with him, too. He looks like he’s visiting the grave, one way or another.

Forty seconds.

It’s a nice apartment, but it’s still an apartment. Not many places to hide. Except, he’s been over here before. She has one of those sort-of closets that aren’t really closets, a hole in the wall covered with a plaster lid. It goes straight to the pipes, and he grits his teeth as he squeezes in, delicately pulls the lid back into place. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Easier if Sami’s half-dressed and running interference.

Moving slowly, not rushing it, not scalding his ass on the hot pipes behind him. Thirty seconds bleed by while the big bad wolf huffs and puffs and threatens to bring the house down.

Ten seconds to crouch, still his breathing, close his eyes, and listen.

But not pray. Never pray. His prayer is the gun in his hand.

GM: The big bad wolf does more than threaten. Sami has barely started talking when Em hears the door burst open. Heavy footsteps tromp through the apartment.

It doesn’t sound like they particularly care about a warrant.

Em catches flashes of blue uniforms and scowling expressions from his hiding place. The cops question Sami. She plays innocent. They bring up her whoring. She still plays innocent. Hasn’t seen an Emmett Delacroix.

Em hears something heavy smashing. A low voice swearing.

The footsteps tromp away.

The apartment door closes. Lightly.

Sami looks around a moment, then pulls open the lid. She’s half-dressed in the same nightie.

Emmett: “Sorry.”

GM: “You’re buying me a new TV,” she says.

Emmett: “A bigger and better one,” he agrees.

GM: The screen has been smashed in. There’s a few sparks going up. Sami unplugs it.

“What the fuck did you do? Those cops didn’t even grope me.”

Emmett: He retrieves the duffel bag and pulls out a few wads of cash held together with rubber bands. He leaves them on her pillow, like complimentary chocolates from a hotel that understands real service.

“The right thing,” he says in response to her question, after a too-long pause. “It’s always the right thing that gets me in trouble.” He shakes his head and grapples around her nightstand for the pack of cigarettes she keeps there. He clutches a few and slides them into his pocket. His lungs are begging to be set on fire. “The less you know about it, the happier you’ll be.”

He checks the time, too.

GM: Less than an hour since they went to bed. Em knows (from experience) that cops like to raid people’s houses early in the morning. Even the hardest partiers are usually asleep, disoriented when they get woken abruptly up, and it’s the time people are most likely to be home.

Emmett: He clutches his head. How long until they double back? He has to figure some hours at least. But wait too long, they might send somebody to sit on the apartment, watch for him. He’s pretty sure they do that on TV.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck. Fuck the pope, and the kids in his bed.

He is never doing the right thing again. He stumbles into the kitchen and dials Miranda’s cell. He doesn’t know why he’s memorized it. Maybe because it’s one of the few he actually looks forward to dialing.

GM: Em just gets a look from Sami over “doing the right thing,” but she doesn’t say anything he doesn’t want to hear when he leaves the cash on her pillow.

It’s what she’s best at.

The phone rings for as many times as Em usually likes to make people wait to show he isn’t desperate.

What?” comes the groggy-sounding voice of another girl who sounds equally pleased to be woken up early.

Emmett: “You up for some civic disobedience?”

GM: “It better be good to be this early,” Miranda grogs.

Emmett: “Only if you’re able to take it, Super Saiyan. Look, you remember telling me about robocalls? And messages? All that? Is there any reason you couldn’t set something up to flag a police precinct with a bunch of calls and emails and the like?”

“Particularly of false sightings that happen to carry my description?”

GM: “Yeah, it’s basically a limp-dicked version of swatting.”

“That can get people killed.”

There’s a thick giggle.

Emmett: “Yeah, well, with how bad they’re looking for me, this might too. So be careful. Cover your ass, but if you can get them running all over the city…” he glances back at the other room, then lowers his voice and cups the phone’s mouthpiece. “I will do things to you that will make you happy for the wheelchair the whole next day.”

GM: “Ohhh, like what things?”

She’s never been one for innuendo.

There a crunch from the phone’s receiver like she’s already eating.

Chips?

There’s a glug, then a loud belch.

Emmett: “I’ll keep you guessing. Just stay safe, okay?”

GM: “Eh who cares about that.”

“But okay. I can keep the pigs oinking.”

Emmett: “I do. Don’t get hurt. And thanks. I owe you one.”

GM: “Yeah you will.” There’s another thick giggle. “Oink oink oink.”

Emmett: “Oink,” he agrees, thinking again about the big bad wolf, and hangs up.

He briefly worries about his parents. What will they think, when the police knock down their door?

Probably nothing new.

He briefly regrets not telling her to send them to Ron’s place.

GM: Regrets are nothing new for a Delacroix either.


Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM

GM: Em gets out and hails a cab. Falafel Joe is happy to drive him through the city. Em doesn’t care where. So long as they keep driving. Em sits in that cab for over 12 hours, interspersed by a few food and bathroom breaks. There’s also an ATM stop. The cabbie’s fee climbs into the quadruple digits and he doesn’t want to accept credit cards. By the time it’s over, it’s the most expensive cab ride of Em’s life, but his driver seems well-pleased. He even insists on buying Em some of the shawarmas that are his daily lunch. They’re mutton, pita, lettuce, yogurt, and lots of sauce.

Joe drops him off outside the House of Blues in the French Quarter.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get the smell of hummus gas out of these clothes.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get Middle Eastern discothèque out of his head.

Joe looks absolutely delighted, though, by what might well be the most lucrative day of his career.

“You need a ride any time, any blace, no questions, you call Joe!” he waves, even leaving Em with his cell number.

Emmett: He thinks he’s a genius, at first. It’ll be pricey, but cops never stop cabs—terrible impression to make on tourists. Four hours into the hummus-stinking journey, he’s mellowed considerably. He sleeps, badly, but it’s a good bad sleep, that straddles the edges of wakefulness while sparing him the worst rigors of a conscious mind. When Joe brings him the pita-wrapped, dripping schwarmas, he devours them ravenously.

12 hours pass. They aren’t comfortable, or particularly pleasant. But they’re safe, and he knows what to expect during them.

That may make it the best way he could have spent his money.

And spend it he does. He’s broke outside the House of Blues. He steals a drunken tourist’s wallet and walks inside the place stinking of hummus and cigarettes and bad ideas.

It’s 8:50. He sits at the bar, buys a drink, and looks for a cop. You can always tell a cop by how they carry themselves, somebody told him in OPP once. Like they’ve got a bad back that doesn’t have the right to break yet.

GM: Said to be “hard to find and harder to leave,” the New Orleans House of Blues is a combination live music venue, bar and restaurant named one of the city’s “hidden venues,” though it remains part of a larger franchise.

Em doesn’t see any cops outside.

But he does see someone else.

camilla.jpg
She is a cold, haughty beauty, with high cheekbones, porcelain-pale features, and lustrous brown hair, but it’s a beauty that makes Em’s skin crawl. It’s not the pretty kind of beauty. It’s the terrible kind. The kind that can do unspeakable things, like never once smiling, and still look beautiful. It reminds him of the woman with the poison eyes. She wears a white trench coat, black leather gloves, and felt hat.

Knowing his luck, she is undoubtedly looking for someone.

Emmett: Knowing his luck, he can bet who.

He walks into the place next door, careful not to let her see him.

Then he uses his shitty burner phone’s internet access to find the House of Blues number, squinting at the tiny screen. He dials it.

GM: “House of Blues,” greets a man’s voice after several rings. Blues music is faintly audible.

Emmett: “Call for a Pete. Tell him it’s from Celia.”

GM: There’s a wait.

“Pete,” comes a voice in the firm sort of tone Em has already learned to associate with law enforcement officers.

“From what I hear your voice is a little deep to be a Celia.”

Emmett: “She sent me,” he says without preamble. “But you’ve got a problem out front. Scary-looking bitch with a trench coat. I saw her before she saw me. Can you get to the place next door?” He gives him the name.

“Without her seeing you?”

GM: “Could try. But it’s a gamble.” He doesn’t say why. “I’m guessing you’ve got something for me.”

“Pay someone there to drop it off at the Evergreen Plantation. I’ll reimburse you.”

Oh. He’s broke.

Emmett: “I’m broke,” he mutters. “I’ll have to do it myself. Or—“

He pauses. “I’m Emmett Delacroix. You heard my name in the last few hours? Thanks to all this shit, I’m wanted. And you’re a detective. You following my train of thought?”

GM: “Oh, is that so? Are you giving yourself in, Emmett?”

Emmett: “Long as you’re the one who takes me in. And as long as you can promise I’m not dead as soon as I set foot into a precinct.” He isn’t sure if the other man can hear the exhaustion in his voice. “I’ve had a really long day, and I’ve probably fucked up my life more than can be unfucked. So as long as you do what you promised her you’d do…it doesn’t really matter what happens to me. Are you gonna come take me in, or not?”

He clears his throat. “Um. Sir.”

GM: “Okay. I can do both promises. Hang tight,” says Pete.

“What are you wearing?”

Emmett: He laughs. “I’ll be the best-looking guy in the bar.” He describes his clothes. “You won’t miss me. You’ll smell hummus.”

GM: He’s approached a little while later by a girl who flirts with him, saddles up close, and whispers in his ear, “Pete said you had something to pass on.”

Emmett: He passes it to her. “It’s never the other package they’re looking for,” he grouses.

GM: The girl smirks and heads off.

A little while later, he’s approached by a short and stocky gray-eyed man with dark hair and the unmistakable demeanor of a cop. “Emmett Delacroix?” he asks.

Emmett: “That’s what it says on my underwear,” he says, and holds out his wrists.

GM: The cuffs snap on. He hears the Miranda warning he’s heard enough times to have memorized himself.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

Emmett: “…read to you?” he finishes reciting along.

“Yeah. Let’s roll.”


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Emmett II, Epilogue
Highway to Nowhere

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.

Krystal.jpg
Krystal.jpg
Krystal.jpg
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.”

Taylor.jpg
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.

Yiiikes.

“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.

Christina_Roberts.jpg
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.

MarkStines.jpg He doesn’t make much more 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.

She knows.

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.

“Miranda.”

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.

Just business.

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.”

GM: “Good.”

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 armbinder 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:

Make merry.

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.

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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.”

Different person.

Same words.

“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.”

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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.

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The second visitor is a bald and bull-necked man whose arms look too burly to be a lawyer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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He stops at the Golden Gate.

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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 shaves.

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.

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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 Lena.

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.

Nothing changes.

Never.

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.

Too late.

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.

Too late.


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.

Legless.

Death row.

Alone.

Except for the blonde teenager who’s the spitting image of Cècilia in 2007, sitting across the plexiglass as she listens to Em talk.

Yvette_Devillers1.jpg
Telling the last story he’ll likely ever get to tell.

Too late.

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.”

He chuckles.

“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.

It’s hate.

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…”

“Yvette. Stop.”

Emmett knows that voice.

The hands grabbing fistfuls of his unkempt hair slacken. He can make her out past the plexiglass.

Cecilia.jpg
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!”

“Yv-”

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.”

“But ’e-”

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.

Pity.

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.

“Hello, Em.”

“Does believing that make it easier?”

Emmett: He chuckles humorlessly.

“Shouldn’t it?”

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 plexiglass.

“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 him 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 plexiglass 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 plexiglass. 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.

He writes.

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.

View
Emmett II, Chapter XI
Bad Counsel

“There’s always a next time.”
Bert Villars


The first portion of this log is posted at:

Emil II, Chapter VIII; Emmett II, Chapter XI

Monday morning, 7 October 2007

GM: Lena, when she came by, said she was going to see what she could do so far as getting a lawyer from their parents. A good lawyer is expensive on her still-resident doctor’s salary.

Emmett: He spends lots of his time thinking about scenes for a movie.

GM: But religious nutjob or not, Emil at least comes through with the lawyer.

For the ‘best in the business’ she looks pretty young. Fresh out of law school young. The 17-year-old boy might be distracted by how hot she is, too.

Amber.jpg
She does get right down to business with him. Em is NOPD’s prime suspect and facing two charges of aggravated battery at the very least. Police have failed to identify the owner of the nose (“though forensic evidence backlogs are atrocious”).

Emmett: His first question is direct. “Do you think I’m guilty?”

Blondes have kind of been ruined for him.

GM: Amber explains that actually matters less than he might think. Some clients think a lawyer who believes they’re guilty won’t defend them or will half-ass the defense. “But everyone is entitled to a legal defense under the law.” She also explains the concept of attorney-client privilege to the teenager. In brief, anything Em tells her is privileged and can’t be used against him. “In fact, I lose my law license if I breach your confidence.”

Emmett: He smiles politely and nods, but says, “I understand, ma’am. I’ve watched The Wire. But I’m asking despite that. I know you’ll do your best for me regardless, but right now I need to know that when I plead not guilty, you’ll support me because you know that I’m not a monster. That bond, that trust, is far more comforting than the legal obligation to defend me. And if you don’t, you’re the first person I need to demonstrate my innocence too. Please, Ms. Cox, Amber, it matters more to me than I can say. Knowing what you know so far, do you think I’m guilty?”

GM: “I’m supporting you because I’m being hired to,” Amber answers frankly. “My job isn’t to prove you’re innocent, because you’re already presumed to be. It’s the prosecution that has to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you’re guilty. So my job is to poke holes in the prosecution’s case and make their job as hard as possible. That’s why lawyers who defend guilty people are still doing a good thing. They make sure the prosecution has to present an airtight case.”

Amber also adds (“I’m not sure if Jonases were clear about this”) that she isn’t a public defender. She’s a private defense attorney and doesn’t have any obligation to take his case. She is taking it, because she thinks it’s worth defending Em whether he’s guilty or not.

All that matters to her is getting all of the facts so that she can negotiate with the DA’s office from the best (for him) position possible. Does he have any idea, any at all, who the owner of that nose was, or who (if it wasn’t him) attacked them and Emil?

Emmett: He drops it since she clearly isn’t biting, but privately thinks she’s got a lot to learn if she thinks clients are going to answer questions honestly to a lawyer who’s playing coy with their own answers.

Luckily, he does have an answer.

He sells Zyers down the river with the gleeful enthusiasm of recommending somebody for a job interview. He emphasizes the fixation that Zyers has demonstrated towards his assault on Emil not only in the conversation Em had with him outside OPP but on the inside as well, and of course Zyers’ obvious, persistent instability, antisemitism, and pseudo-sexual attraction to violence and pain.

“That psychopath is exactly the man they should be asking questions to, especially about whatever poor bastard is missing a nose.”

GM: Amber asks how Em knows it was Zyers and what evidence he has. That will make the DA’s office a lot more likely to bite than just hearsay or accusations.

Emmett: Em admits that hard evidence against Zyers is beyond him, but that he can produce a witness (Hillary Cherry) who can confirm not only Zyers’ antisemitism, but also that she requested Emmett to find Emil and thus contextualize his being at the apartment.

He also emphasizes that Zyers himself has been bragging about his assault on Emil, and how he “cut that kike up up real nice,” up and down the Parish Prison, including within the hearing of COs Em can name off the top of his head.

He doesn’t mention how he’s spent a fair few of his hours convincing Zyers to grow and elaborate wildly upon that story, including how he followed the stupid niggerjew back to his shitty little apartment, but hey, she doesn’t care about the truth, right?

Mick’s been a real friend to him, keeping him company, sticking by him, taking his advice, trusting him. He might even miss him if the retarded psychopath wasn’t also, well, a retarded psychopath.

Then again, probably not.

GM: Then again, maybe one person might believe he’s tried to be more.

There’s not a lot to do in Orleans Parish Prison. Actually, there is, but there’s still plenty of time spent killing time.

Some inmates write letters. Paper, pencils, and especially stamps are a commodity like anything else. Food, cash, and sexual favors are the most common items, but anything that’s not nailed down is a commodity. Em has never seen another place where every object, every resource, every kindness, is so transactionalized.

They write, the ones who’ve resigned themselves to being in the parish jail for a while, and who have loved ones on the outside.

Sometimes they even get letters back. No one believes the sender and recipient are the only people who read them.

Emmett: No, he hasn’t. Being quite sick of considered a viable candidate for sexual assault (is this what it feels like to be a girl? He’s just going to assume so and pat himself in the back for his abnormal empathy) he pays the price with an empty stomach and whatever he could nab from mealtimes.

He doesn’t need much. A piece of paper, a pencil, stamps and an envelope.

He gets them.

GM: He catches Zyers blasely giving another jumpsuit-clad figure a blowjob in return for an apple and banana.

Emmett: He waves halfheartedly as he passes.

GM: Zyers whistles as he does. “Blow you for free, Em! You’re a real sweet looker!”

Emmett: He smiles and nods, then goes to his cell to write.

Writing never comes natural to him, the way acting and talking does. You can’t see somebody’s face as you’re writing to them. Just paper, and your own words, and nothing but what you make of it.

It isn’t anything fancy. He tells the truth, starting with his name and how he played Westley so he could pretend to be somebody he wasn’t. Such a mild sin, in retrospect. It’s like confessing that he had his hand in the cookie jar.

Still, he writes it. He explains politely who he is. The lies he tells to everybody, and how he came looking for a conquest but found in her somebody unlike anybody he had ever met. How she had no vice he could manipulate, nothing he could pervert or exploit or turn to his advantage— except for her love, and her kindness. He retells, briefly, the story of that first night, when she saw through him enough to know he was broken, how he tried to use his own hollowness to entrap her, how she blindsided him with her generosity and charity.

How he met her mother, who saw through him and who showed him some of who she was. He doesn’t elaborate—except that he knew once Abèlia had him, there was no backing out.

I don’t know if you know all there is to know about her. But she is something else.

He leaves that at that.

He tells her that he never stopped being a bad person, and that he doesn’t expect he will, today or tomorrow or ever so long as he breathes.

He tells her the only reason he could prey on her as he did was because she was kind, and trusting. And he tells her, in that white, empty space, what even he has never admitted—that for all his lust and need and spite, he stayed with her because he liked feeling, for a time, like somebody worth loving.

And so he says sorry, but also thanks her, and lets her do with that what she will.

GM: He plasters the American flag Forever Stamp onto the letter addressed to 1415 3rd St, New Orleans LA 70130 and drops it off. The Mob will read it, he’s heard: they control the mail here. He’s even seen an inmate with a gun. It seems like they half-run this place.

Zyers knows how to survive here. He’s cheerily indifferent to how many cocks he has to suck. He seems to know this place like a second home. Em doesn’t doubt he’s been in and out for years.

But it may be one thing to survive among his fellows and another among the institutions of law.

Amber is thoughtful and says if sheriff’s deputies (COs are in prisons, while OPP is “technically” a county jail) can back up what he’s saying, they might have something to go on. The DA might cut Em a better deal. The biggest headache for them with his case is “there’s actually very little evidence.”

Emmett: “I mean, I called 911. Emil himself says I helped him out, and I have no history of doing anything like this, whereas that guy literally bragged about it. I know that it looks bad not to stay and talk to first responders, but surely that’s enough evidence to create some kind of reasonable doubt. I mean, what exactly is their narrative here? I attacked a guy I was recruiting for my film and called the cops on myself? I still barely understand how I’m a real suspect. Nobody interviewed me or asked about what happened for days. They just arrested me and said something about a unit clearance rate. I know this is New Orleans, but how am I a more likely guilty party than this piece of shit literally talking about it?”

GM: “Reasonable doubt is a standard than only really exists for trials,” Amber explains. “When it comes to arrests and pressing charges, it’s a bit lower. Actually, a lot lower. But again, if the deputies can back this up, I think we might be able to get you a better deal with the DA. In the end, they and the cops want someone to blame for this.”

Amber spends a little while longer asking him for names before saying she’ll talk with him again soon.

Emmett: His only question and potential holdup: what kind of deal? What does she think she can get for him?

GM: Amber answers that dropping the battery charges and clearing up the confusion over the murder charge could well be on the table. The DA isn’t likely to go forward with the latter, given the dearth of evidence and lack of ID on the victim, but would likely give Em a worse deal because they’re pissed over that fact. If the deputy witnesses come through, and they can get Emil to testify on record that Em didn’t attack him (likely in the cards), Amber feels pretty confident about getting Em down to just obstruction of justice, and potentially even dropping that. She’ll need to talk with the deputies, the DA, and with Em again. If he agrees to the deal she hammers out with the DA, they’ll submit it to a judge to sign off on.

Amber advises him to take any deal he gets. Judges do not like trials and can make people wait in Orleans Parish Prison for literally years until a trial date finally rolls around.

Emmett: He tells her, beaming, that if she can come through on that, he’ll sign his name happily.

GM: He actually won’t sign his name, Amber clarifies. He’ll just appear before a judge and plead guilty to a reduced number of charges, or if she can get him down to none, then the process won’t involve him at all. But she’s glad the prospect makes him happy.

Em spends another day in jail before Amber sees him again. The sheriff’s deputies, she explains, were unfortunately (if perhaps unsurprisingly) not willing to corroborate his statements. She still thinks she can get Em a good deal, though. There ultimately isn’t any evidence the victim is dead, or that Em removed his or her nose. The entire case is a giant headache for the DA. They’re probably going to let him stew in jail for a while longer, hoping he’ll crack. Amber tells him to hang on (and to repeat “I want a lawyer” like a broken record if any cops try to speak with him) while she looks into things further. The DA’s case is still very weak beyond obstruction of justice.

It’s as Em’s being escorted back to gen pop by a deputy that he passes a dapperly-dressed black man wearing a suit and sunglasses. A dock-tailed dobberman with a service harness and cover reading Seeing Eye Dog pads ahead of him.

“Bad news from your lawyer, mmm?” the man greets Em with an oily leer.

Emmett: “Some,” he admits. “You selling any good news?”

I hate blind people. Does that make me, like, bigoted? No. No, it’s normal. I’m normal.

GM: The leer widens.

“Always.”

“Are you his new fucking lawyer or just wasting my time?” the annoyed-sounding deputy interrupts.

“Of course, deputy. We don’t want to keep you waiting,” the blind man replies soothingly.

The leer returns as he turns back to face Em.

“Bertram S. Villars, attorney at law. If you’d rather get your legal counsel from someone who graduated law school before last year, and who didn’t suck cock to pay tuition, my first consultation is free.”

Emmett: This guy thinks he can talk me into—wait. Free?

“Free sounds good,” he hedges.

GM: The yellow-toothed leer widens. Em has seen similar looks from drug dealers giving out their first hit for free. He has the distinct impression this man does not consider his ‘generosity’ to constitute a profit loss.

“For your patience, deputy,” Villars replies in the same cloyingly soothing tone, slipping a bill into the man’s pocket.

The deputy smiles. “Room’s yours. Holler if you need anything.”

The pair and Villars’ dog head back into the interrogation room. Em’s newest lawyer lights a cigarette as he listens to the teenager’s story and Amber’s advice thus far. By the time it’s done, there’s nothing left of the cig but smoke in the air.

“The deputies can be made to corroborate your story, and to make the assault charges and murder question go away,” he finally replies. “They just won’t do it for nothing. They’ll need to feel their efforts are… appreciated.”

“Cox knows this, by the way. She just isn’t willing to stick her neck out for you. I didn’t say she sucked cock simply to badmouth her. She’s only just stopped working as an escort for a madam named Christina Roberts, and she’s being very careful to keep her nose clean this early in her career.”

Emmett: Em is impressed despite himself, at this man who glides bat-like between worlds. His own twisted angel.

“That’s a hell of a tip, Mr. Villars. A hell of a tip.” He glances around. “I’m not getting out of here without Cox’s help, and until I get out of here, I’m dependent on the friends paying her bills for me. But you strike me, if you don’t mind me saying so, as one sly motherfucker. She won’t stick her neck out for me, but I can’t just drop her, so I’m wondering if you have an idea for how we can help our guards feel appreciated without bringing her into the loop, or how we can approach her and convince her to see our point of view.”

GM: Villars waves a hand through the lingering smoke. “Her mind’s made up. There’s nothing we can offer that’s worth more than a bright legal career ahead of her.”

“What makes you say we can’t simply drop her?”

Emmett: “How’s the family paying for my legal fees going to react if I suddenly ditch their lawyer? My own folks have left me to rot. And you don’t strike me as a big pro bono guy.”

He cups his hands in an expression of regret. “Hey, if I could hire you over her, done in a heartbeat. I have a feeling we could do great things together. Right now, I’m wondering how I can make that dream a reality, you follow? I’ll tell you what, though. You’re a creative guy. I can be, too—it’s how I ended up in here, too much fuckin’ imagination. Between the two of us, think we can come up with a way to get you paid, and me out of here?”

GM: “That’s precisely what I am paid for,” smiles Villars.

He questions Em a bit further about his situation with Emil’s family, then answers, “Sometimes the quickest way someplace is a straight line. Tell them you’ve found another lawyer you want them to pay for. Tell them Cox only just stopped working as a prostitute, if they don’t bite. I doubt they know.”

Emmett: “Think you’re cheaper than her?”

GM: “Better lawyers bill fewer hours. Cox will spend who knows how long on this case when it’s open and shut.”

Emmett: Em nods thoughtfully.

He knows he’s being sold to. And yet, something about this man calls to him. Maybe he just needs a new father figure.

Ugh, what am I, a girl with daddy issues? I don’t even like those kinds of stories.

Still…

GM: “Oh,” Villars leers, “and because this is the first question first-timers to our criminal justice system like you usually have:”

“I truthfully don’t give a shit one way or another if you killed that person and hacked off their nose or not. I’m in this for the money. I’ll defend you if you’re Hitler, so long as yours is good.”

Emmett: “You know, that’ll come in handy when I get into trouble later on.”

GM: The yellow-toothed leer widens again.

“There’s always a next time.”

View
Emmett II, Chapter X
The Last Lies

“You’re bad seed. Everything you touch turns to shit.”
Ron Landreneau


Day? September 2007?

GM: Emmett dreams.

Or maybe wakes.

He’s back in his house. His parents and Clarice are sitting around the dinner table. They’re naked.

They all turn to look at him when he comes in.

“Take your clothes off,” his father whispers thickly, like he told Ron that Abélia told him to do.

Pre-cum drips from Phil’s erect cock as he rises to help his son. His mother’s and aunt’s nipples are firm. Their womenhoods are wet.

“Isn’t this what you want, my dear boy?”

Abélia sits in a chair. He can’t tell where the dimly-lit room’s shadows end and her midnight dress begins. She is part of his house. Part of family. Fluttering laughter spills from all of their mouths but hers.

Simmone giggles from her mother’s lap.

Emmett: I just wanted to sleep.

He disrobes slowly, carefully. He starts with his shoes.

He can’t look away from her eyes as he does so.

Part of their magnetism is a reaction his repulsion of the other sights of the room.

But a deeper, truer instinct tells him that if he looks elsewhere, those ceaseless, bottomless eyes will find him wanting, and start nibbling on him instead of playing with him.

Em holds her gaze.

“It is what I thought I wanted, Mrs. Devillers. But I was foolish, and younger than I am now.”

His belt thuds to the floor.

“Albeit not much younger,” he smiles, drawing on the refreshing lack of overwhelming pain he feels to make it more real in this unreal place.

“You have been very patient with me, ma’am. I’m sincerely grateful.”

Mostly because she had not chosen to do this sooner, but sincerely grateful nonetheless.

GM: Simmone lifts her dress. Her mother starts massaging her clitoris. The two-year-old whimpers happily.

“Emmett Delacroix, Emmett Delacroix, why can’t you be happy like me, Emmett Delacroix?” she pants. “Are yours just not good enough? Emmett Delacroix?”

Emmett: All the more reason to not look anywhere but those two eyes.

GM: His naked family stand motionless nearby. Frozen nearby. Hands still out to help him remove his discarded clothes. A hair-thin line of pre-cum hangs from his father’s still-erect shaft.

Emmett: “They’re good, Simmone,” he says, as the bolo tie clumps to the floor. “Very good people. Patient people. It’s me who’s broken. I tried to be too much without knowing what it would be like to be the me I thought I wanted.”

His jacket falls. The shirt follows.

His chest feels scrawny and hairless, clammy and cold.

His spindly arms carefully guide his pants down legs that tremble even as they stand.

GM: “This has happened before,” Abélia states.

“I thought this was what you wanted?” Cécilia asks curiously from behind Em. She starts massaging his cock to get it hard. She slaps and tugs his balls too for good measure.

Emmett: He almost turns to see her. Almost breaks to see even the cruel facsimile of her desire for him.

It doesn’t stop him from getting erect, a detail which he finds incredibly inconvenient given all the other things happening in that room.

Still, he perseveres.

“Men want things they shouldn’t. I hazard even women do that, occasionally. But I wouldn’t know. All I have is my word.”

Those dark eyes are his universe.

“What do you mean by that, ma’am?”

GM: They glint like dying suns reflected in a creation-less void.

“I don’t think that’s it, though,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “That doesn’t make sense for the character.”

“Shit, kid,” wheezes Ron. "Your one shot! Shoulda fuckin’ drugged her, got it outta your system… "

Emmett: “I know I’ve made mistakes,” he agrees, letting that emptiness call to the same void he carries in his voice, the one that lets it swallow people’s attention up without ever pausing to wonder why it thirsts so. “But I’m not done trying to fix them, and even if I make things worse trying, I’d rather live with that than wonder if I could have made things right.”

His breath labors slightly as Cécilia strokes ceaselessly.

“I need to try. To make things. Right.”

He wonders what those empty eyes see.

GM: “Be quiet, I know you want this,” declares Sami.

She tosses the belt over her shoulder, unzips Em’s already discarded pants, then hitches her skirt and mounts him there on the plastic (is that what it’s made of?) desk’s built-in chair. Her smile is gone like a discarded LBD. Her motions are minimal but vigorous. The chair’s built-in desk forces the coupling pair close together, and Em can feel her still-clothed breasts pressing against his face. The climax comes suddenly and he feels like he’s barely gotten to know her when she climbs off. He doesn’t even know what she looks like naked, or how her kiss feels, or even how she looks with her down.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” Sami says thoughtfully.

She holds up her phone and snaps some pictures of them, then climbs off him, and slings her backpack over her shoulder.

“Gotta go. Good luck with your girlfriend.”

She’s out the classroom door without another look back.

Cécilia sits attentively at the desk at the front of the room, taking clear and concise notes in girlishly neat handwriting like the straight-A student Em knows she is.

Abélia sits behind the teacher’s desk, thoughtfully holding an apple. A worm burrows out from a hole, followed by half a dozen others. The worm has half a dozen writhing, fleshy ends, like a grotesque fleshy spider. The tallest one has Cash Money’s face. It smiles a cumstain-like smile. The other ends have Dino’s, Josh’s, Showerz’s, and Jermaine’s faces. Some make laughing expressions. Others sneer. Others glower.

“This is obscene, Emmett,” the many-headed worm chants in voices that all sound like Isabel’s dad.

Emmett: Those eyes are his anchors, his constellation graveyards.

“I have made mistakes, Mrs. Devillers. But I think I am prepared to make more, ma’am, if you would make use of them. If your heart is as vast and warm and kind a thing as I think it must be.”

A little less sincere, now, but he says with no less feeling.

GM: Abélia swallows the apple. It’s too large for anyone to in one gulp, but she still swallows, and doesn’t chew either. High-pitched female screams like during Sami’s gang-rape sound as it disappears.

Cécilia’s mother dabs her mouth and turns to him.

“This has happened before.”

Emmett: “When, ma’am?”

GM: Mrs. Flores sits down next to Em. He almost can’t tell it’s her. Her black eyes are so swollen they almost look foreign eggplant-like growths, Em can’t even see any eye underneath them. Blood is everywhere.

“I’m not trying to be vapid, Emmett. It’s just that after my husband beats me like this, and screws up my kids’ heads… I really thought the best way to deal was puttin’ on a smile for the world, to maybe just make a bit of someone else’s day less dark. I’d have enjoyed being in your movie.”

Cécilia raises her hand. Her mother calls on her.

“Isabel isn’t a vampire,” says Cécilia. “That never happened.”

Emmett: He’s confused about Isabel, but he doesn’t say anything, waiting for the strange play to continue.

GM: Isabel’s dad sits down next to Em and lays a possessively assuring hand on his shoulder. “Quiet. I like a woman who doesn’t gabber.”

Emmett: “I can help her, too. She needs a friend. I can be one to her.”

GM: “This is happening out of order,” says Cécilia. “Everyone needs friends. Who are yours?”

Emmett: That makes him pause.

“My uncle. And kids. Kids at school.”

GM: “You killed his son.”

She seems to think.

“But I don’t have a son. Maybe I’m being a little judgmental.”

Emmett: “He doesn’t need to know I killed his son. I barely need to know that.”

GM: Isabel’s dad smells. His carapace rots apart. A dapperly dressed black man with sunglasses who smells like insect repellent shoots Em an oily grin.

“I’ll be your friend, Emmett. So long as you don’t fuck me over.”

Emmett: He frowns at the man with the sunglasses.

He hasn’t seen him before, and yet there’s something familiar about him.

GM: The man plucks off the last stray bits of rotted flesh.

“Then I’ll fuck you back just as hard.”

“This has happened before,” says Abélia.

She claps her hands and they’re in a prison.

Emmett: Why is he in a wheelchair?

“I don’t know what you mean, ma’am.”

GM: Em sees himself. He’s sitting in a wheelchair, missing his legs, and chained to the table. He’s got a beard. He looks decades older. He’s screaming and weeping and shitting himself as a woman who is and isn’t Cécilia’s sister drives a psychic icepick into his head.

“This is how it turns out,” says Cécilia.

“You need to remember the best parts of this, Elliot. The best parts of yourself. I think that could make all the difference, once it’s really going to count.”

The doors swing open wide, and guards wheel the legless man into an execution chamber.

Emmett: “Elliott was never real,” he mutters.

He is young but he has lived more than so many.

He is ready for the needle.

GM: “This has happened before,” says Abélia.

Emmett: His eyes meet hers, drawn to her even in death.

“Then let me do something new, ma’am. I’m ready.”

GM: “Have you ever watched snakes make love?” asks Sami. She’s dressed in a prison guard’s uniform as the doors clang ominously shut.

Emmett: “No. Do they wrap around each other?”

GM: “They do, actually,” nods Cécilia. “They’re closer to each other than humans can ever be, in some ways.”

“That’s the tragedy. We don’t realize what we’ve lost until it’s too late to do anything about it. Mostly too late.”

Simmone smiles up at Em. She’s holding hands with another little girl wearing cowboy boots who’s named Sue.

“I love friends!” says Simmone.

“Friends mighta saved you!” says Sue.

Emmett: “I like friends, too,” he says. “I just can’t seem to hold on to them.”

GM: “Holding onto things is hard,” says Sami. “Just ask her.”

Lena is handcuffed to a hospital bed. Em’s parents wear prison guard uniforms too as they wheel her in. She’s giving birth. The baby that comes out has Emmett’s face and vein-lined skin as red as the devil’s. It smiles like the cat that ate the canary as she cries mournfully:

“Where is my baby!”

The infantile creature stares up at her with hatefully possessive, jealous eyes and shrieks at the top of its lungs:

MMMIIIIIINNNNEEEE!”

MMM-MMMIIIIII-IIIINNNNEEEE!”

Emmett: He takes it from her, and shushes it with warm tones as he gazes into his own, devilish face. Perhaps he should smother himself.

GM: “You’ve had worse thoughts,” remarks Sami.

She pulls out her gun and blows its brains out. Blood, brains, and gore spatter Em from head to toe.
Cécilia nods approvingly.

“Let’s get down to it. Get over here and fuck me, Em. You have Maman’s permission.”

She lays down naked on the execution gurney and spreads her legs.

Emmett: He goes to her.

He does, his eyes finding their her mother’s eyes even as his hands run over her.

“Is—that—good?”

GM: She’s gone.

There’s just Cécilia.

No Sami, Lena, or family members either. Just them.

Emmett: To her eyes, then, like the tender lover Elliott should be.

They’re much the same, anyway, but so much more blue.

GM: “Remember, Em,” she says as he fills her.

“Friends.”

Emmett: “Is this really you?” he asks between thrusts. “Really us?”

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Emmett: The images and sensations make him long for the incestuous scene he started with, and Abèlia’s endless gaze permeates the entire affair, make his cream and sob alternately, butin the quiet moments where everything makes a half-kind of sense, he asks Cécilia, hoping she might hear him with every drop of hard-gained earnestness: “Did you know from the beginning, Ci?”

Abelia
GM: This has happened before.

This has happened before.
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Em may not have met Abèlia for very long, but hers is not a face he will soon forget. It’s the spitting image of her daughter’s, down to the same pale skin, high cheekbones, milk-smooth complexion, and swan-like neck. Their lips, eyes, mouth, chin… all close to the same, if one were to shave away the passage of twenty to thirty years. The only immediate, all-too striking difference between them is their hair and eyes: pale blonde against midnight black, and deep against pale blue. Em has the odd thought that they’re blue like an ocean… the same ocean. Only one is close to the surface where the sun still shines, and the other is so deep as to be almost out of sight, just on the border region where nameless things great and terrible and alien swim.






He’s asking the wrong question.

Does he still not realize?

Emmett: He isn’t sure.

“You… did this to me? Before?”

He tries to meet those eyes.

Blue.

Black.

Blue.

Blublackblublackblublacblue.

“I’ll do anything,” he says. “Just help me fix it, please, please, please Maman, please—”

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GM: This has happened before.


Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007?

GM: Em awakens in Tulane Medical Center with a cast on his leg and leather restraints around his limbs. A Dr. Crawford asks for his name and the events that got him there. Gunshot wounds are legally required to be reported to the NOPD. No matter what he says, it’s not long before he gets a visit from two men who introduce themselves as Detective Moore and Detective Hill.

“Jig’s up, Emmett,” says Detective Moore.

“Or is it Elliot?” asks Detective Hill.

“I guess you’re a lot of things to a lot of people,” remarks Detective Moore.

“Or a lot of people to a lot of people,” chuckles Detective Hill.

“We have some questions, Elliot.”

“Emmett. Whatever.”

This has happened before.

Emmett: He smiles like there’s a joke he’s trying to understand in the ribbing they haven’t explained anything, and nods a little when they bring up the names.

“Jig? Isn’t that an Irish thing? I’m not really able to dance after what happened.” He frowns a little. “I’m sorry, officers, it sounds like I’ve done something to upset you. I just want to clear up how this happened and help any way I can.”

He adds, “Was one of you gentlemen on Cops? I love that show, and you both have great faces for TV. I’m actually making a movie, if either of you wants in. There’d be a free dinner in it, too. Commander’s Palace. I’m sure most places in town are willing to feed officers for free anyhow, huh? Or maybe not. This town doesn’t appreciate its police enough, my civics teacher says that all the time. Good guy.”

GM: “Don’t think he gives a fuck,” says Moore.

“Don’t think so either,” agrees Hill.

“That’s the beauty, Em. We don’t either,” smiles Moore. “None of what you say matters, not really. We arrest you and our unit clearance rate goes up.”

“You’re under arrest,” Hill explains helpfully. He pulls out a card and reads from it,

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as we have read them to you?”

Emmett: “If I say no, do you have to read them again?”

GM: “No, that doesn’t really make a difference either,” says Moore.

Emmett: “I’m sorry. I’m still processing. What am I under arrest for?”

GM: “We’re not sorry. And probably murder,” replies Hill.

Cops in a hospital. This hasn’t happened before, but it sure seems like it could happen again. Em feels like he is floating above all the pain, all the drugs, all the consequences, and that somehow, something about these two men, these Detectives Hill and Moore, is completely pointless. So what if he gets arrested? It’s just bullshit. Isn’t it?

Oh, there’s the movie.

There’s high school.

There’s college.

There’s his family.

There’s his life.

But it’s all just bullshit, isn’t it? Somehow, Em knows with that bullheaded confidence only 17-year-olds can have, that he is invincible. That he is going to turn out okay.

He sees it like a director reading the script of a movie that’s not going to get made. It’s all a script. It’s all bullshit. He can do what he wants. Be who he wants. Say what he wants. None of it fucking matters.

Piss on his future. It’s all bullshit.

Isn’t it?

Emmett: It’s all bullshit, and it’s happened before (or maybe later, some part of him that’s been paying attention notes) but it’s his bullshit life, and for a half-second he mourns it, has to stop himself choking on something that he never ate.

He appreciates the forthright nature of the cops, their cheerful abandon of the pretense of duty or honor. He finds it refreshing to know that the world really is the one he’s always thought it must be.

Yes, he can say anything, and it will not matter—curse them, or make them laugh, or say something that will at least sink in their memories only to surface like a bloated corpse when they drink themselves to death later—but he feels the fun has rather been taken out of it.

Em tries saying nothing for a little while.

It’s enough.


Saturday morning, 29 September 2007

GM: The room’s features are bare and plain: featureless steel and concrete. Uncomfortable-looking steel stools, bolted to the floor, are seated around plexiglass windows and an attached steel countertop. Phones hang from dividers between the seats.

The company in Orleans Parish Prison hasn’t been as bad as Em thought. The people there are a lot of Showerz and Dino. Plenty seem like everyday folks off the street who were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Emmett: He’s been shaking lots of hands and collecting lots of names.

Hey, you never know.

GM: It’s the comforts that leave the most to be desired. He’s dressed in an orange jumpsuit with ‘OPP Inmate’ printed in thick black letters, along with tightey-whiteys, white socks, and ‘Jackie Chan’ slide-on shoes that painfully pinch his feet. The jumpsuit feels like a clown suit, or the dunce cap that children used to wear in school. Everyone that is not an inmate looks at him like an animal, and he can feel it. The jumpsuit itself is faded, ripped, rough, stained, sagging (it feels at least several sizes too big), smelly, and missing one of its buttons. Em can only speculate how many people have worn it before him.

Emmett: He tries to relax in it, nonetheless. It’s all he’s given, so he tries to use it.

GM: His first visitor past the plexiglass isn’t his parents. Perhaps that’s a surprise to him. Perhaps it’s not.

There’s nothing parental about Ron’s look as his uncle sits down on the stainless steel stool behind the window. No lectures that Em can all but feel waiting to leap off the older adult’s tongue. No recriminations.

But no questions if he’s okay, either. If he’s all right. If he’s hurt.

Ron opens with just one question as he picks up the phone, as blunt and heavy as a dropped anvil:

“What the fuck happened at that shoot?”

Emmett: Em holds his uncle’s gaze. “We did what we came to do. J was getting kind of angry. Arguing with the host. Stupid shit. I peaced out. I don’t know what happened after.”

He adds, “Nice to see you, too.”

GM: Ron’s stare is flat, hard, and uncomfortable as the stainless steel seat.

“My son’s dead.”

Emmett: Em’s eyes widen, and he swallows. “They—they killed him? Jesus, Ron. What are they—do they know—? I am so sorry, man. I didn’t know.” He makes himself choke a little so he can make it seem like a sob.

He really should have taken me more seriously.

GM: There’s as much change on Ron’s face as the steel seat.

Still hard.

Still cold.

Still comfortless.

“You’re full of shit.”

Emmett: Em stops. Looks up at him.

“What do you want from me, uncle? I don’t have any answers for you. Not if that’s what you think.”

He pauses. “Ron. Did you love him?”

GM: Ron doesn’t stop either. He doesn’t start. He doesn’t answer.

He just repeats:

“I want to know what the fuck happened to my son.”

Emmett: Em stares back at him. “Your son, huh? He didn’t think he had a father. You want to know what happened to your son? He grew up without you. Made his own way. You kept him around, but you never had shit to do with him. Didn’t have room at that little fuck-palace, I guess. And now he’s dead, so you’re getting all paternal and shit? Who the fuck do you think you’re kidding, Ron? I was more your son than he ever was, and we both know it.”

GM: There’s anger at his words, Em can see. Heat rising against the steel. Gray turning red.

But it retains its shape. By just enough.

“One more time I’m asking. One more. Or your pretty ass can rot here.”

“What the fuck happened to my son?”

Emmett: He shouldn’t feel hurt. Shouldn’t feel angry. Shouldn’t feel jealous, not for his hoodrat cousin, his dead cousin, the cousin he killed.

He needs Ron on his side. Needs money, a lawyer, somebody with power in his corner.

But there’s nothing he can say that will make it all right, or better, or even polite.

And maybe, just maybe, he wishes somebody cared as much about him as the dead boy.

“Same old story. His daddy didn’t love him enough to stay. So he made his own way, and that way got him killed. Hey, maybe when I’m dead, you’ll realize you actually give a shit about me, too.”

Why is he crying? Why the fuck is he so sad?

No reason. No good reason at all.

GM: Ron stares back. Em’s uncle’s face grows redder at the simultaneously venomous and needful words, but it quavers too, like an overripe tomato threatening to burst. Ron looks old, and sad, and caught completely off guard by that fact. Like the party music’s finally died, and no one is left on the dance floor but him. Not a wife. Not his sister.

And not his son.

Ron’s reply is a whisper through the phone.

“I don’t know when it’s gonna be. But I know how it’s gonna be. It’s gonna be your sister. Your girlfriend. Your mom. Your dad. Whoever you sucker into trusting you. Sitting where I am now, after everything is fucked, asking the same question.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, kid. I see right through you. You’re bad seed. Everything you touch turns to shit.”

With those final words, Ron hangs up the phone. He gives one last long look, gets up, walks out the door, and out of his nephew’s life.

Emmett: “Where do you think I caught—”

But he’s gone, and it doesn’t matter.

He wants to hurt. Himself. Ron. Abèlia. His parents. Mouton. The poison-eyed bitch. He wants to hurt everybody and everything until his own pain is eclipsed in the resulting detonation of grief, agony and sorrow. He wants the whole world to suffer because he does, the entirety of existence to writhe with his tantrum and know that nothing, not a single moment of kindness or love or hope or resurrection will ever undo the crimes committed against him, the defendant: everybody else.

Yes, he supposes Ron has a point.


Sunday afternoon, 30 September 2007

GM: Em gets his wish.

Oh, he sees suffering aplenty in Orleans Parish Prison’s bowels. The inmates stabbed and shanked and shivved and beaten by each other, or by the guards: they suffer.

The unfortunates not cut out for this, who sob pathetically between their hands over whatever accident of fate landed them there: they suffer as well. The drugs they buy or foolishly accept for ‘free’ from the veteran inmates do little to numb their pain.

The unfortunates sodomized in the showers, or in their own bunks, because the strong always take from the weak: they suffer, too.

The lunatics howling apocalyptic insights into the night after everyone’s locked up: they suffer, in their own way. So does Em, when he doesn’t get to sleep.

Even eating the slime that passes for food in this shithole, if someone bigger doesn’t steal it, is suffering.

But it all happens to strangers. The only person in the prison he immediately recognizes is Mickey Zyers, who, like any cockroach, seems perfectly adapted to survival in even the most hostile environments. He whines to Em about “butthurt niggerjews.”

Emmett: He is truly in Hell.

GM: It’s a few days later that Em gets another visit.

He’d almost wondered if they weren’t ever going to come.

Emmett’s father Philémon possesses the distinct, but hard-to-name features of a redbone. His frame is tall, but neither slim nor stocky. His dark, semi-wavy locks and goatee are modestly trimmed. One cheek bears pock-marked scars, suggesting either a history of bad acne or a hunting accident with buckshot. Though his metal-framed glasses are two generations shy of hip, he passes for a somewhat fashion-conscious professor in today’s attire of jeans, corduroy sports coat, and t-shirts—which is still dressed up next to his otherwise preferred hunting camo and muck boots.

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Many people who call their spouse their “better half” are alone in calling them that. In Phil’s and Tanya’s case, though, everyone agrees the moniker is apt. Everyone always said Em got more of his mother’s looks than his father’s. Her dark skin is wrinkled from age, but unblemished by her younger husband’s acne and buckshot scarring. They’re good wrinkles, too, the kind someone gets from smiling a lot. Her features are well-proportioned, her black hair is still thick and full despite a few gray strands, and her black-framed glasses (which give her a resemblance to her husband) are the kind that never goes out of style. She’s better-dressed in a white blouse and tan slacks.

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Em’s parents sit down across from the phone. His mother is the first to pick up the phone.

Their faces are stone.

“Hello, Em.”

Emmett: “Mom, Dad.” He rubbed pepper into his eyes a few minutes ago to redden them and get some tears going.

“H-hi.”

GM: They don’t say anything for a moment.

“Boy, you mus’ think we’re pretty darn stupid,” his father finally grits out as he takes the phone.

Emmett: “What?”

Oh for fuck’s sake, did I use too much again? Is there some caught in my eyelashes?

GM: “What? That ain’t no country I ever hear of. They speak English in what?” says his father. “That how it goes in that movie you can’t get enough of?”

“Phil,” says Tanya.

Emmett: “I barely even know why I’m in here!” Em protests. “What do you guys even think I did?! I know I can be stupid sometimes, I know that, but you can’t think that I, I would do that to somebody—”

He stares at them, the two the that raised him. “Can you?”

He doesn’t know, he realizes.

What they do think he is or isn’t capable of.

“You think I would hurt somebody like that?” he whispers.

GM: No cracks show from the stone faces behind the plexiglass.

“Do you have anything that you would like to tell us, Emmett?” his mother asks.

“Think long and hard,” his father says, his voice slow and opaque as the Mississippi on a cold winter day.

“Think long and hard.

Emmett: “I just… I told some lies and I kept a movie a secret from you… and that’s all! I haven’t done anything to deserve this!”

GM: “That so? Jus’ a harmless lil’ movie?” asks his dad.

Emmett: “Yes!”

GM: “You’re fulla horseshit.”

The stone cracks. The words are angry. But there’s hurt, too.

Emmett: “Why?” he says, anger simmering beneath his words. “Why do I have to be full of horseshit on this? Why, just once, can’t something be not my fault?”

GM: Phil just stops and stares for a moment, veritably agape. But his danger doesn’t simmer. It roars to life, turning his face bright red, and all but blistering Emmett’s ear through the phone:

“Why? Why!? WHY!? Because you’re a GODDAMN LIAR is why! The truth ain’t what you say it is, Emmett! Truth is truth no matter what pile of s—manure, you try to shovel into our mouths! Don’t you piss on my leg and tell me it’s rainin’! YOU are the liar, YOU are the one wh-”

Phil,” Emmett’s mother cuts him off.

But there’s little pity in her voice for her son. The stone breaks there too.

Em knows well the look on her face. His father’s temper might take a lot to blister this hot, but he’s seen that look on his mother’s face a thousand and ten times before.

Disappointment.

“You’ve been up to a lot worse these past few months than white lies and a movie, Emmett. I don’t know why you even saw that as something to hide. We’d have been thrilled to hear you wanted to do something constructive. Something good.”

They’re sad enough words. But all Em hears is bitterness.

Emmett: “I don’t understand,” he says. “What you think is so bad. So bad I deserve this.”

GM: “Let’s start with your uncle being in the hospital.”

Emmett: “What?!”

He doesn’t need to play up his confusion.

GM: That apparent confusion just turns his father’s face even redder as his snuff-stained teeth clench.

“People aren’t as stupid as you think, Emmett,” his mother says. “You think your father and I haven’t noticed the signs in our own house? That we don’t smell the weed or cigarette smoke in your room, or not hear your window rolling up when you sneak out?”

Emmett: “For christ’s—this is the first I’m hearing about this! What the fuck happened to Ron?! He was here a few days ago!”

GM: His parents just stare at him.

“I think you should ask yourself that,” his mother finally says.

“I think you should think long and hard on what role you might have had in sending him there.”

Emmett: “Why—” His face is red. Not flushed, not pink, but the same color as his father’s, his complexion flaming and ugly. He hates looking angry. Seeing them see him this way.

“You know who he is,” he all but spits. “You know him. You told me to stay away from him, because you knew. And now you’re saying I did this to him?! Me?! To him?! He’s the victim here?”

His chest, small and somewhat scrawny though it might be, heaves with furious sobs. “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!

He doesn’t say it into the phone receiver. He doesn’t need to.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY UNCLE?!

GM: His parents stonily receive Em’s rage and wrath in a way make that makes him feel like he’s nine years old again and pitching a tantrum. He was always a slow learner.

Still is, arguably.

His mother finally replies into the phone, “Your uncle drank himself almost to death. He’s still in ICU.”

“We’ve visited him. We’ve had a lot to think about.”

“So’s he.”

Emmett: “Drank himself to—and that’s my fault, is it?”

His mind is reeling.

What did you tell them. What did you tell them, you evil alkie FUCK?

GM: “Boy, I don’t know if you’re stupid or you jus’ think we are,” his father replies.

“Phil,” his mother says.

Her tone sounds more tired than chiding.

Emmett: “How can I think anything, when you tell me nothing?

GM: His father looks about to angrily start again, but his mother just shakes her head.

“Your uncle has a lot of things going for him, by most people’s standards. His movies. His money. His women.”

“But my first thought, when we saw him in that hospital, was how sad he was. How lonely. How hurt. No one looked like they’d been there to visit. There weren’t any cards or balloons.”

“He was in and out of it. But one of the clearest things he said was, ‘I don’t want to die alone.’ Over and over. ‘I don’t want to die alone.’”

Emmett: Em says nothing. His face is dark and so unlike the face everybody says is handsome.

GM: “There was a lot I was, and am, angry at him over. There is a lot of pain your father and I are still struggling to come to terms with. There are a lot of things he’s done that we can’t ever accept or condone.”

“But we stayed a while. I don’t know how much better it made things. But he seemed glad we did.”

“Your Aunt Clarice is still there,” says Phil. The red has mostly washed out from his face. “She’s praying for him. She’s praying for you.”

Emmett: He half-laughs, half sneers. “If you only…” he shakes his head. “Yeah. I’m sure she is. Thank her for me.”

His heart is loud in his chest.

GM: His father’s stare sharpens. "I told her to keep at it. You’ve done things too, Emmett. Things that… "

His father looks at him, and then suddenly seems to deflate like a punctured balloon, the air all coming out in a great and haphazard rush, "That make us wonder, wonder where, where in God’s name, we went wrong with you. Wh… "

His mother just looks at him.

Em’s father looks at her, then back to Em.

“He’s done worse than you,” Phil says gruffly. "We’re… we’re going in to see him again. And you’re… "

His father’s voice suddenly softens. Almost implores.

“You’re our son.

His mother picks up the phone.

“Come clean to us, Emmett,” she says quietly.

“Come clean over everything, no more lies. And we will work through what comes next. As a family.”

“We don’t want to see you where your uncle now is.”

“Or where he could have been.”

Emmett: Emmett stares at them.

They know. There’s nearly no doubt about it. They think he drugged and raped Cécilia, probably, but worse, odds are looking good Ron told them about his attempt to control Sami.

They know.

So why can’t he say anything?

Because I don’t want to be a rapist, he thinks. I don’t want to be a murderer. I don’t want to make movies or get laid or ever tell another lie. I want to go home and forget this ever happened, and I want everybody to shut up when I walk into a room and never say anything ever again.

But once he says what he did, he’ll always be who he is.

Besides. The truth sounds insane. Completely insane. How does he even begin to tell them about Abélia? About the Poison-Eyed Lady, and how she brought back Sami from the fucking dead? They say they want the truth, but there’s no way they’d believe him. He has no choice but to lie.

It almost makes him feel better.

Almost.

“I’m your son,” he says slowly. “And I know I’ve been bad. I know I’m not who you wanted me to be.” He stares at them through the glass. “But I’m innocent of this. I am.”

His fingers touch the glass, lightly and tips-first, like it’s a riverbound reflection he can dip his hand into.

“Can’t you believe me? Please? I’m seventeen. I’m not some monster. I’m yours. Please? I can’t go to prison. You can’t let me go. Not like this. I’ll never come back.”

There’s nothing else to say, so he just says, again:

“Please?”

GM: Emmett’s parents are only a few feet away from his hand as he touches the glass.

A few feet, and a million miles.

And a million more every second they look into his eyes.

It’s like how driving along one of those perfectly flat deserts must be. Where he can drive and drive and drive, and still see what he’s leaving behind in the rear view mirror.

His parents don’t look at each other.

They don’t even say anything.

They just look at him, at their son, hearts welling in those eyes that look a million more miles away every second.

Em’s father lays a hand on his mother’s shoulder.

She hangs up the phone.

They get up.

They turn around.

They walk away.

They don’t look back.

Emmett: He watches them leave.

Watches them give up on him because he is too broken to fix.

It’s the last thing he needs to see to finally get the picture. Nobody, not the best people in this world, or the worst, or the monsters, will ever hold their breath for the person he really is.

Here Lies Emmett Delacroix.

He died alone, in front of an audience.

View
Emmett II, Chapter IX
Cash Money Mouton

“That mouth’s gonna get you killed someday.”
Ricky ‘Cash Money’ Mouton


Thursday night, 27 September 2007, PM

Emmett: “Just so you know,” he says a little later, as their tires eat up road. “We’re even now. I figure.”

GM: Sami just stares.

Emmett: “I mean, you raped me, then I got you gangraped, which was kind of more than I planned going in, but you know, they weren’t exactly asking my opinion. Then, you know. You pulled the gun. Nearly shit myself, actually. That was crazy. And I trusted my cuz, but he did the one thing I asked him not to. So then I killed him so the lady could bring you back. Then we killed Dino, which neither of us really needs to feel bad about. Then I set up that place nice for the cops, and then you shot me in the foot, and by the way, this is a borrowed car, so that’s going to be a bitch and a half to clean. Also, and I really hope this makes you happy, it hurts. Good job.”

He hisses his teeth and squints at a traffic light. “Look, where did you want to go? I’ll take you there, but you should know, as long as Cash Money’s out there, there’s still a way for the mob to figure out what really happened. And I know you’re scared of him ‘cuz he’s a cop, but that’s nothing to who his other friends are. I’m not trying to scare you, just telling you that unless we cover our asses, tonight, all we’ve done is buy ourselves a day or two. And fuck, my foot hurts. Goddammit.”

He honks at the Mazda that cuts in front of them narrowly.

“Jermaine shot you. Mangled the hole real bad, too. Is it still there? I know a doctor.”

Not that he’s looking forward to explaining this to Lena.

GM: Sami looks confused.

Emmett: “What bit do I need to say again?”

GM: “Talk slower than you drive,” she growls.

Emmett: “Okay,” he acknowledges. “What do you remember after he cut your throat?”

GM: Sami blinks slowly.

“It… was dark.”

Emmett: “Yeah. You remember the woman, though? The creepy bitch with the eyes that just didn’t stop? Do you remember what she did?”

GM: Sami looks confused.

“I was… in my house.”

Emmett: His turn to look confused.

“And… and what happened?”

GM: Sami motions with the gun.

“Left here.”

Her eyes narrow. “What happened?”

Emmett: “In… in the house. And when you woke up.”

His voice is shaking a little, and not because of the gun. He turns.

GM: Sami frowns confusedly.

“I said, what happened to me?”

Emmett: “Oh. Um.”

He keeps his eyes on the road when he tells the story.

How she stopped breathing, or was about to. How he couldn’t believe what he had done.

He never wanted to kill her.

How the woman asked what he would do to save her, and how he couldn’t let himself say anything except for anything.

The things she asked him to do.

What he took from Dino. Fed to the freak in the leather.

How she… chanted.

How she brought Sami back, in exchange for his cousin.

It was Jermaine’s fault for killing her. That’s what he told himself. He knew he was lying then. He doesn’t know why he’s telling her all this.

It seems so pointless to lie anymore.

GM: Sami listens, quietly. Her face looks hard at first, and utterly without sympathy for Em’s regrets. Her finger seems to all but itch against the gun’s trigger.

Then, mid-way through, she looks baffled.

“You expect me to believe that shit?” Sami growls when he’s done. “What the fuck do you mean, killed me? Brought me back?

Emmett: “Doesn’t matter if you believe it. It happened. You think I opened a vein for shits and giggles? Cut off Dino’s testicle because I thought the geometry was off? Killed my cuz because he farted loudly? Nah, Sami. Believe what you want. I’m too tired to dress it up nice for you.”

He drives. “For what it’s worth, you and I are both going to be dead inside of three days if nothing changes, so if you’re going to keep waving that thing in my face, you can pull the trigger, too. If I wanted to fuck you up, you don’t think I would have done when I was still strapped?”

GM: “Why the fuck am I here if your piece of shit cousin fucking killed me!?” Sami snaps. The gun doesn’t move.

Emmett: “I don’t know. How come you seem to have forgotten he shot you before he cut your fucking throat? How come that lady had some kind of sex slave from a leather daddy’s nightmare? Why are you so insecure you had to roofie Cécilia’s boyfriend to feel like you had a shot against her? Why is every rocket NASA makes shaped like a cock? I’m your driver, not a magic eight-ball. You want the truth, Sami? The only things I give two shits about right now are making sure my family doesn’t get dragged into this and you living. I’m not sure if you’ve picked up on this, but the fact that I’m still talking probably means I have some kind of death wish, or maybe just that I figured out if you shoot me while we’re in traffic, you’re going to have some very cranky lawmen to talk to very quickly, so make a fucking decision already and kill me or don’t. This on the edge shit is getting old, and when I get bored I get juvenile.” He turns his head from the road to glare at her, cocks his head so that she has a clear shot.

“Go ahead. Do it. I got you raped and killed and since apparently there’s no coming back from that, you may as well get it over with. Do it. Do it!

His eyes are burning. Not with glee, not with malice. Just exhaustion. Frustration.

Resignation.

GM: There’s silence in the car for several moments as traffic blares past. Sami’s brown eyes are burning too. There’s some frustration there, as well as exhaustion, and a toxic emotional brew of god knows what else that it took four live rapists turned into two dead rapists to ferment.

“I’m not fucking over my life too,” Sami finally snarls, lowering the gun. “You’ve already done a good enough job at that. You have a death wish, fine. Take the freeway exit. Go drive outside the city. I’ll blow out your brains somewhere people won’t see.”

Emmett: “Sounds like a plan. What’s yours after that?”

He switches lanes before they miss the exit, eliciting honks he barely registers.

GM: “Not your problem then, is it?”

Emmett: “It’s my problem now. You think I want you dead? I just committed a few lifetime’s worth of Emmett so I didn’t have to look at your stupid corpse, so yeah, if you’re about to do something retarded like head back home, at least I’ll know to tell you where to find Cash Money so you can deal with him before you try pretending this is over.”

He eyes the duffel bag in the back. “You skipping town? That’s a good plan. You don’t care about your parents, right? The ones who pay a boatfuck of cash so they can tel themselves you’re getting treated nice at McGehee?”

He slaps the radio on.

GM:WHY THE FUCK, IF YOU CARE SO FUCKING MUCH ABOUT ME, DID YOU GET US INTO THIS!?” Sami suddenly screams at him, her eyes wide and furious.

Emmett:BECAUSE OF YOU!”

A stretch of open road yawns before him. His foot falls to the pedal like eleven gallons of bullshit sinking a ten-gallon drum, and the engine roars to match his voice.

YOU! BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DID! TO ME!”

Trees whip by. A rest stop sign telling him it’s only five miles from the nearest O’Tolley’s.

40. 45. 50.

“Forgotten that, have we?” he snarls. “Forgotten you drugged me and sat on my cock like it was a merry go-round and got all up in my shit?! You seemed to remember it pretty fucking vividly when I was treating you to dinner. YOU. CUNT!”

60. 65. 70. The cars on the other side of the road become chromatic smudges melting into the night he can’t drive away from.

WHY I GOT US INTO THIS?! Because Cécilia’s a tease and her precious fucking Maman’s a monster. Because I have nothing, nothing but myself, and you TOOK THAT FROM ME! Did you ever get that? Ever even THINK about it? I did, which is why Cécilia still has whatever the fuck it is she keeps between her legs! Because I did one half-good thing, stopped myself from being the worst person I could be, and you showed me it didn’t matter a shit!”

85. 90. 95… was that a speed limit sign?

WHY I GOT US INTO THIS? BECAUSE I NEEDED YOU, and you BEAT ME! GODDAMMIT!”

120, and the brakes scream as he sees headlights like devil’s eyes flickering up ahead.

He doesn’t crash, somehow, and cuts around the blaring driver—"YEAH, FUCK YOU TOO!"—at a mere 80. The radio sings through it all in voices he barely cares to listen to.



“That,” he says through gritted teeth, “is why. Because I needed you. And the only way I could get you to take me seriously was to break you like you broke me.” He lets out a harsh, mean little laugh. “Fuck, think I might’ve overdone it?”

GM:SLOW THE FUCKING CAR!” Sami yells in his aching ear. Maybe she’s been yelling for a while past Em. It’s hard to say. Maybe long enough that she thinks yelling isn’t too useful at this point, as she’s got the gun out again. She’s holding it by the barrel as if to pistol-whip him.

Emmett: He slows it.

Slowly.

“Make him the cutest, I’ve ever seen,” women’s voices sing through radio speakers.

GM: Sami’s heaving chest is rising and falling in tune with her labored breaths. She looks awful still. She hasn’t even rinsed off. Em might absently wonder why.

“You are SO FUCKED UP!” she yells over the Chordettes’ 1950s-pleasant voices.

“Sandman… I’m so alone… " goes the radio.

Emmett: “Thank fuck! Thank fuck somebody else thinks so, I’ve been thinking that for a while. But then again, it’s not like you’d have much perspective. Little miss-back-from the-dead. Little miss murderer. Little miss I-need-to-be-popular. The next time you think about why this happened, at least remember you started it.”

He takes a deep breath. “I know I’m fucked up,” he snarls. “I have to live with myself every second of every day. Knowing exactly what a bastard I am. So you’ll be doing me a favor when you end it. You want to know why I care about you? It’s because you’re a fucking awful person, and that reminds me of myself. I bet you learned how to lie to your mom pat before you got your first period. Bet daddy would buy you almost anything if you asked nicely enough, but it’s more fun to take it from some mope with more head in their pants than on their shoulders. How’s all that mystery working out for you? Think I don’t know who you are? Sami, you vicious bitch, you showed me exactly who you are in less than ten minutes.”

“Send me a dream… "

GM: The handgun’s butt smashes across Em’s face. It hurts. He tastes blood.

“My dad WOULDN’T buy me SHIT, asshole! I had to beg! I had to whine! I had to say ‘please, Daddy’ in that stupid voice! I get SHIT! Girls like Cécilia get everything and I—get—SHIT!”

She whips him again on the other side of his face. It hurts, too.

Emmett: “Theigh you go,” he laughs, even as he groans through the pain. “You’re ‘ight, they do.” He coughs out the blood. “It’s her fault we’re here, you know. I mean, ours, obviously—but hers, too. With her stupid fucking smile.”

GM: Sami doesn’t slow down.

“I had to BEG to get into McGehee! Just for a SHOT at what she has! I BEGGED! They said sure, they’d use my COLLEGE FUND! NOW I had my shot, and YOU fucked up that, and the only reason I’m not putting a bullet in your fucking head is you’ll FUCK UP MY LIFE EVEN MORE THAT WAY, SO I CAN GO TO JAIL FOR TWO FUCKING MURDERS!”

Sami gives a mangled, inarticulate cry and smashes the pistol into his face again, where she did the first time. It really hurts. Em tastes more blood.

“I DESERVE BETTER!” Sami shrieks with bloodshot eyes, her chest madly heaving.

Emmett: “Theigh you go,” he half-groans, half-chortles. “You’re ‘ight, you do.” He coughs out the blood. “You’re ‘ight. You think I didn’t say the same exact thing? ‘S why I tried to fuck Cici in the first place.”

His chest rises and falls, too. “‘Cilia. It’s her fault we’re here, you know. I mean, ours, obviously—but hers, too. With her stupid fucking smile. Stupid fucking family. Fucking mom.”

“Let him know his lonesome nights are over…"

GM: “Pretty sure she wasn’t the whiny bitch butthurt over getting lucky,” Sami glares.

At least she isn’t hitting him again. Yet.

“And who fucking cares about her mom?”

Emmett: He laughs, even as his eyes flare at the derision. “Butthurt. Interesting choice of words. But yeah, her fault. You wouldn’t have done what you did if she wasn’t so fucking untouchable. I wouldn’t have tried to fuck her so hard if she was less perfect. Her mother wouldn’t have shown me what she is if I hadn’t tried to fuck her daughter. I wouldn’t be making the movie if I thought I wasn’t worse than dead otherwise, because that lady ain’t what she looks like. Yeah, I get it, I’m an asshole, but you know you are too. But we deserve better. And because she lives better than both of us, she’s never going to hurt like we do.”

He rolls down the window and spits blood. “Unless she’s made to hurt.”

GM: Sami just stares venom. Right now it looks more at him than Cécilia.

“What the fuck do you mean, ‘shown you what she is’?”

Emmett: “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. But if I don’t tell you, you’ll kill me. But if I tell you, you’ll kill me anyway. This is what my mama likes to call ‘a conundrum.’ But since it’s just me here, I’ll tell you. You remember how all the girls who tried to knock down Cici got really unlucky? I’m going to guess maybe a few of them ended up with problems nobody saw coming on their doorstep and came off the worse for even looking at her wrong. Maybe even a few of them don’t go to McGehee anymore. Stop me if I’m wrong. And I bet, if you’re clever, and you are, you’ll have noticed anybody who tries to touch her sisters ends up the same way. What happened to her brat sister after Wesley stripped her at the dance? I’m guessing anybody who tried to tease her got real unlucky, real fast. They’re a real unlucky family to fuck with, ain’t they?”

He still drives, albeit slowly. Bitch to focus while she’s hitting him, but then if they crash, she can live with that. He won’t need to.

“Have you ever met Abélia?”

GM: If he’s wrong, Sami doesn’t stop him.

She just listens, then finally hmphs, “No, why would I?”

Emmett: “Ah, you don’t know much about Cici if you think she doesn’t matter. She doesn’t love anybody more than her Maman, I learned that quick enough. It’s all Maman this, Maman that. Maman killed a girl who gave her brat sister cheese and sent her to the hospital.”

“Let me ask you—I’m kidding, I’m going to ask you anyway—do you remember anything at all before Jermaine opened up your neck? Anything after your little escape attempt? You remember getting shot?”

GM: “Pull over somewhere,” Sami says tightly.

Emmett: “Sure, but if you don’t answer the question, I can’t tell you what you need to know to take everything from her. Let’s do that first, shall we?”

GM: “Pull over somewhere or I’ll shoot you again once we do,” Sami snarls.

Emmett: He starts to pull over, shrugging. “Your funeral. Well, it would have been. Before I brought you back to life. Not that I need thanks. I’m a very selfless man, everybody says so.”

He pulls into the shoulder.

“Your parking space, madame.”

GM: Sami smashes the gun into his groin, across his already struck face, and then his groin again. Then his mouth, too. There’s more blood. More pain. More hurt.

Emmett: He takes it. “You… done?”

GM: “You done being a piece of shit? Because if not, blowing out your brains was already real fucking tempting.”

Emmett: “Probably… not… but I can ease up. Look. The point is Abélia isn’t… wait, fuck.”

He rolls down the window, spits more blood.

“Not human. That’s the big secret. Big thing. She’s… something else. If I had a lie that made sense, I’d say that instead. But I don’t. She’s some kind of thing. And so is Cici.”

GM: Sami stares.

“What the fuck do you mean, not human?

Emmett: He stares at her back. “What it sounds like. Her breast milk is black. Saw her feeding the little one. She let me see. Makeup can’t do that. And she… she told me. She knows who I am. Doesn’t care. Thinks it’s funny, or something. She’s some kind of thing. Like a vampire or alien or whatever. Like the lady who bought you back was. Not. Normal.”

He spits more blood out the side.

“You know… I deserve this… but you’re making it hard for me to talk to Cash Money, later. He’ll set the mob on us. On you. If I’m dead. Not sure you care.”

GM: Sami’s confounded expression swiftly gives way to one of pure hate.

“Guess we’d better stop him then.”

“No. Fuck. He’s a cop.”

Emmett: “Yeah… but you whack him, the cops come after us. Right. You wanna hear my… plan, or just cap me now?”

GM: “Oh, I wanna do the second.” The hate in Sami’s eyes doesn’t dim. “For now I’ll settle for the first.”

Emmett: He laughs. “W-witty. Ah, excuse me, I think you knocked—” He leans over and spits again. When he turns back to her she might notice the missing molar.

“We can blackmail him. Obviously, don’t wanna phrase it like that, but we have the tape still. You do. You can do whatever you want with it, but if he thinks it might end up with the police, well, even this police department might not be able to st-stomach him.”

He can’t feel his foot.

That’s okay. He doesn’t need it to drive.

“S-so, tonight, we go to his club. And I thought—I thought, I’d go in, tell him how things ended up, tell him we had the tape and if shit went down wrong and the police got to us or the mob did — the pigs would get it. That’s… that’s the stick. The carrot is what I took from the house.”

He pats with one weak-feeling hand his breast pocket. Draws out the hard drive. Shows her.

“All kinds of… dirt on that. Scary shit. Shit the mob’ll probably… kill for. Lady said it was the underboss’ house. That means real shit. We give this to him, maybe some of the cash you lifted—we get him to sing the song we want to the mob. How we left and all the shit that went down happened after and had jack to do with us. And then… then you can kill me. And I’ll even shut up on the way so you can make it quick. Just… put me in the Bayou. That’s the safe thing. You’ll need to get rid of the car, too, but that’s, you know, easy. Leave it someplace it’ll get stolen with the key in the door. That’s not the hard… hard part—fuck.” He starts coughing. The phlegm comes out all red. He tries to smile. He’s sure it looks gruesome.

“I deserve it. We both know that. Just… lemme go missing. So my family thinks I ran, or something. Don’t want my sis to think I could hurt somebody like I hurt you.”

Em sighs. “Don’t think she could believe I did, though. I’m a special kind of b-bastard.”

He doesn’t sound proud. Just sick.

GM: “I’m not stepping foot inside his club,” Sami reflexively says, then seems to think.

“Yeah. You’ll do that. Tape stays with me, hard drive, whatever, goes with you. So he can’t just grab and torture us both to get out of this. Because fuck trusting anyone. And fuck your stupid family.”

Emmett: “Ah, they’re stupid, but they’re s-sweet,” he mutters. He is, in fact, full of goodwill he didn’t think he had for the Delacroix clan. They really raised him right, so that he would know how wrong he is.

“Good call with staying in the car. But’s one problem. I’m not really in tip-top shape. I go in… as is… I don’t think I’m coming out. I mean, no fault of yours, I had all this shit coming, but I’m in a bad place to negotiate. So way I see it, we have two… options.”

GM: “Oh what, because you were gonna he-man fight your way out anyway if that piece of shit double-crossed us?”

Emmett: “Nah… ‘cuz dirty cops smell weakness, and I reek of it. I go in… not sure I can convince him to let me suck his dick, let alone blackmail him. I mean, come on. If I walked up to you tryin’ to parley and shit, how’d you play it?”

“Limped up, more like. Because, you know. The foot.”

GM: “I’d care more about the tape with me on it.” Sami’s eyes look like brittle glass for a moment. “Whatever. What brilliant options do you have?”

Emmett: He winces, then, and even he doesn’t quite know why. “I guess… I guess you would. The first option is the stupid one that gets us both killed. We get back to the Quarter. We find a dealer. Get some heroin. Oxi. Whatever. Painkillers. And I take however much I need to stand up straight, and I go in pretending I’m all strong and shit and I just… bullshit. Maybe I can do it. Maybe I can’t. I really don’t know. Like I said, it’s stupid, but it’s the only way I can think of that I might come back out.”

He takes a deep breath. “That option sound good to you? Because you aren’t going to like the second.”

GM: “Well I won’t fucking know until I hear it, will I?”

Emmett: “Okay. I don’t do it at all. You do.” He holds up a hand at the protest he knows is coming. “Look. You’re scared right now. Of course you are. You’re hurting. And Sami, not that it matters a shit, but I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry for how I did you. I’ve known I deserve whatever’s coming to me for a while, but I only felt it after tonight, so… I’m sorry. That was evil. I know it was.”

“But in case you didn’t notice… you’re strong. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. I mean, you pulled a gun out of fucking nowhere while getting gangraped and made every man who wronged you piss themselves. Did you see Mouton’s face? Like he’d accidentally drank from a fuckin’ porta potty. Fuck, he was so scared of you he ran. You get that? Look, you hate me, I hate me, everybody with half a fucking brain would—but give yourself some credit. I had you dead to fucking rights, and you turned all that shit around. Because you’re stronger than me. You’re stronger than him. And if you walk in there knowing that, you can walk back out with his balls in your purse. I shit you not. I wouldn’t be suggesting it if I didn’t think you had a better shot than me.”

He’s out of breath from so many words arranged so neatly. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re angry. But god fucking dammit: you’re also a force of fuckin’ nature, and it’s him who needs to be scared of you. Not no other way around.”

“But… if… if you can’t, because it’s too much right now… I get it. And I’ll do it. It’ll be riskier, and fuck if it’s not the dumbest shit I’ve ever tried to do, but I’ll do it. Because I owe you at least that much. It’s your choice.”

GM: Sami blinks slowly at Em’s words. Her eyes get that glassy look again at the mention of ‘gang-rape,’ and it doesn’t escape Em that she hasn’t used the word ‘rape’ at any point. Perhaps to use the word herself would be to make it real.

Still, the apology and uplifting if not effusive tenor of Em’s praise shifts Sami’s look from one of unconcealed hate to… simply blank.

“That’s… nice,” she says slowly, and more than a little lamely.

She shakes her head as if to dispel a fog.

“But if I ever see that guy again, I’m going to shoot his cock. Then I’m going to kill him.”

The words aren’t even hateful. Just empty.

“Don’t trust myself not to do that now. Don’t need a dealer to get you painkillers either. Can just buy them over the counter.”

She looks at the hole in his foot.

“And I guess shoes.”

Emmett: He nods. It makes sense.

“Okay. Then. W-when I go in, you’re going to want to be ready to go quick—if I’m not out in f-fifteen minutes, and if anybody w-walks out to, towards the car, g-gun it.”

He had a stutter when he was a kid. He hated talking, which was awful because he loved seeing people listen to him. The speech therapists were almost useless. It was the practice that fixed him, the endless hours in the mirror watching his mouth, his tongue. His teeth. When he learned how to speak, nobody could shut him up. He doesn’t like to think about the days before.

This woman has made him forget to speak again.

He’ll need to fix that before the walks in.

“Ok-kay, t-then. Let’s find some paink, k… killers. I d-don’t fink I’m gonna be able to st-stay awake, without… fuck.

He opens the door, and this time he’s vomiting instead of spitting. Red, gooey flecks he’s careful to keep out of Chuck Pavaghi’s precious ride.

Well. Better he get it out now than inside the club. He has a feeling that vomiting all over the filthy cop won’t make Mouton more amenable to his suggestions.

GM: Sami doesn’t say anything more. Em backs up and drives. Road rolls past.

“I told you I was in my house,” she says after a little. “My parents’ house. After it went black.”

Sami stares blankly ahead into the onrushing night.

“I hate my house.”

Emmett: “Oh.”

He idly recognizes that it’s a good sign she’s telling him, but he’s pretty focused on not getting too light-headed. At least when he listens to her he doesn’t need to worry about losing consciousness.

“What a, about it? Th-that you h-hate.”

GM: “Everything,” she says flatly.

“I saw my parents. I hate them too.”

Emmett: “Yeah. Me t-too. What are t-they? What k-k-kind of a-assholes?”

GM: Sami stares into the night.

“I didn’t do it. With the gun. The woman looked at me. Then it was there.”

Emmett: “I believe you. She isn’t n-normal.”

GM: “I don’t know. I don’t know why she helped.”

Then:

“I don’t know why that doesn’t feel lucky.”

Emmett: “Doesn’t mean you w-weren’t st-strong. As a-anybody could be, with w-what we put you thr-through. You st-still went for the g-gun after. Still sh-shot me. Like a b-badass.” He laughs, and it hurts to listen. “L-like a… T-Tarantino movie… c-coolest shit I ever s-saw.”

“St-still hurts, mind. But that’s… okay. ‘S okay.”

GM: “You sound like a retard.” There’s not even scorn in the words.

Emmett: “I k-kn-know. Old st-stutter. It’ll g-get better when I… when I do.”

GM: “Should be grateful to her. Dunno why I’m not.”

Emmett: “B-because she knew what was g-gonna happen and l-let it so she c-could exploit it.”

GM: “She feels like poison.”

Emmett: “S-she feels… like Abélia d-does.”

GM: “What is she,” Sami says tonelessly. “They.”

Emmett: “D-dunno. B-but. They’re not people.

GM: “Cécilia?”

Emmett: “S-she seems normal, I g-guess,” he admits. “B-but if that thing’s her mother… I d-don’t k-know.”

“The one th-thing about her th-that’s not normal… is how p-perfect she is. N-never been hurt. N-no self-esteem sh-shit. She’s happier th-than anybody I’ve met. B-but you already know that.” He half-laughs, half-sighs. “Th-that was the first… clue. She isn’t broken a-at all. But everybody human is.”

GM: “Everyone’s broken,” Sami repeats hollowly.

Emmett: He doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he doesn’t.

After a little he says, “M-my p-parents—they hate me. I m-mean, th-they’d never s-say th-that, but I can t-tell. Th-think I’m st-stupid. Delinquent, my d-dad says. G-guess they have a p-point. B-but fuck them. S-seriously. F-for pr-pretending… to care.”

GM: Sami doesn’t seem to have anything to say to that either.

So she doesn’t.


Friday night, 28 September 2007, AM

GM: Em drives a while. No one talks. They pull in at the nearest 24/7 grocery store with a pharmacy. Sami takes the bag with her, and wordlessly holds out a hand for some of Em’s cash, to go in for some ibuprofen. The pain goes away, mostly. Sami isn’t sure what place is open that sells shoes at this hour.

They pull in near the Barely Legal.

There are few places in the world that can walk the line between “grimy disgusting shithole” and “mecca of rambunctiousness.” New Orleans, Louisiana straddles that divide with unparalleled grace.

The Barely Legal drunkenly stumbles after it.

IMG2012754979HI.jpg
It’s a hole in the wall strip club on Bourbon Street, stuck in between the plethora of restaurants and shops that line the partygoer-filled street. Unlike many of the topless establishments of the French Quarter, Barely Legal asks for no cover charge, ushering patrons straight into a neon-red world of scintillating lights, thumping music, and pole-dancing, ample-breasted women in various states of undress. Frat boys, dirty old men, sleazebag cops, and washed-up losers variously cheer, gawk, and leer at the strippers as they stick dollar bills between g-strings. An omnipresent musk of cheap perfume, sweat, pre-cum, dollar bills, and cigarette smoke suffuses the dimly-lit place. A fully-stocked bar lurks in the corner, offering a “wacky” party menu that lets patrons do everything from having the staff refer to them as “Master” for $100 to managing the club for a day for $20,000.

Hustler-Barely-Legal-Club-b.jpg
Walking hurts. Some people look at Em like he’s a bum. He doesn’t see Cash Money anywhere inside, but several strippers offer to make him “feel better.”

Emmett: It takes a while for the pills to kick in. When they do, things blur and sharpen by turn. He floats from transitional, dreamlike moments, to episodes of cool, yet detached, lucidity. His world blurs. Now he’s in the car while Sami drives, fingers probing the cool, inaccessible maw of the hard drive.

Then he’s outside Chuck’s car. He’s looking through the window at Sami’s face, still flecked with blood and grime where he looks closely. She’s prettier than he remembers, and he doesn’t know why. “I’ll be out in twenty minutes. If I’m not, hoof it. Same if anybody looks at this car funny. You can make it out if you’re smart. You are. Now.” His voice is cool and withdrawn as he holds out a hand. “Give me however much money you feel like paying for this to work.”

Then, he’s gliding across the street, only dimly aware of the winking green lights that let him move without being crushed. His bad foot, wrapped in gas station wrapping paper and cloth to hide the bleeding, drags, but the pain doesn’t seem to be talking to the part of him that cares. Neon thighs flash and kick from the clubfront. Blink, and they might crush you with glowing love.

Then he’s at the doors, and he hears his heart in his ears. It isn’t hammering, or thudding in his chest, or any of what they say it should be. It’s just a tap, tap, tap on the inside of his head, a thin percussion, a meter for the scene.

Is this what it feels like to be in a movie? Not acting, not pretending, but living a life you might lose, will lose? He imagines so. Its about time he got to know what it feels like to really be alive.

The lights of the French Quarter are beautiful. The set twinkles and screams and demands his attention.

Now he’s inside.

Sweat, semen, shit. The smells would bother him more than the sights, dreamlike and lurid, of flesh pressed against flesh and whispered promises he has no time to even long for.

“Bring me to the manager,” he says. “Now.”

He answers their confusion with an impatient, disapproving portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Maybe they see the cheap bracelets covering the slit on his wrist, the one still bleeding intermittently. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. Green is still green, even with a few spots of red.

“Manager. Now.”

Tap, tap, tap, his heart goes. Al.Most. Dead.

GM: The $100 gets Em a meeting with the manager, a mostly bald and overweight black man wearing jeans, a leather jacket, and an unsmiling expression. For someone whose job is to run a strip club, he looks distinctly unglamorous and undesirable. One of the bouncers is with him.

“Yeah, what?” the guy asks once Em’s in his office. He looks the teenager over critically.

Emmett: “Get Mouton on the phone. I’m not waiting.” He pulls out the wad of mobster-lifted cash and counts out another two hundred bucks.

“And if you make me wait, he ain’t gonna be happy. Start dialing.”

GM: The manager looks at Em, then slugs him across the jaw. He tastes blood. It hurts. Not as bad as when Sami hit him with the gun, but bad after how many times she hit him with the gun.

“Watch your mouth, kid,” he grunts.

He takes the money and counts it. He seems to weigh whether it’s enough for a moment, then picks up his phone and dials a number.

Emmett: He spits on the floor and waits.

GM: “Kid here asking for you. Looks like shit.”

Emmett: “Delacroix.”

GM: A pause.

“Deeyuh-croy? He’s slurring pretty bad.”

Emmett: “Delacroix. About Dino.”

GM: A pause.

“Says it’s about Dino.”

Another pause.

Emmett: Em holds out his hand.

GM: The manager hangs up. He looks at the bouncer.

“Don’t let him leave.”

Emmett: “Tell him the Green-Eyed Lady sent me. Tell him she’s not very happy.”

GM: The large-armed, scraggly-bearded man gives the manager an affirmatory grunt.

Emmett: “And then, you ask yourself something.”

GM: “How much more money you got?” asks the manager.

Emmett: Em steps close to the asshole.

His eyes look into his.

Em isn’t strong.

Em isn’t tough.

But those are the eyes of a rapist and murderer, and one who doesn’t particularly like waiting.

“I’m going to say this once, and I don’t care if you listen. You can beat the shit out of me, won’t change anything. Can smack me ‘til I bleed out the ass. And none of that’ll save your own ass once he gets here and hears what I have to say, who I work for, and what she wants.”

Em isn’t tall.

But tonight he has killed and bled and wept, and he is taller than this man.

“So ask yourself: how much does Cash Money like you? Are you his brother? Cousin? Shit, maybe his best man?”

He spits again on the floor, brings himself closer to the prick, lets him see the monster in his eyes.

“Ask yourself. Because when a fucker like me shows up on his door, tells him he has a problem, he can’t take it out on me. I matter to somebody. Somebody who matters to him. But I put him in a bad mood? He fires your replaceable ass for making me wait and putting me in a bad mood. So I’m going to ask you to call him one last time, and if you don’t, when he gets here he’s going to be very, very mad you didn’t. And because you’re nothing, and nobody, he’ll do whatever the fuck he wants to do to you. I’m sure he’s not the kind of guy who abuses his employees in the least when they drop the ball. So. Do yourself a favor, call him again, give me the phone, and I won’t ask for your balls when I leave.”

He spits on the ground, again.

“Or you could beat the shit out of me. Doesn’t change a damn thing. I been through worse tonight anyway. I matter. You don’t.”

He still holds out his hand.

He’s so fragile, so breakable.

But his eyes promise murder.

“What’s it gonna be, bitch? You feel like making the boss mad today? I hear you can make good money at the other clubs. Dancing.”

GM: The man stares at Em, then throws a fist into his gut.

Emmett: He’s laughing as he falls.

GM: The man kicks him in the chest several times. Stomps on his legs. It hurts.

Emmett: So fucking what?

So has everything else.

GM: He bends down and starts rummaging through Em’s pockets. Takes out the rest of the money. Holds up the hard drive.

“What’s this?”

Emmett: He snorts, and says, “Something he’ll kill you for knowing about.”

He seems content to lay on the floor. Wait.

“Man, this is going to be fun.”

GM: “Bet on it.” The manager tucks the hard drive into his jacket pocket, then walks out.

The door closes. The bouncer stares down at Em.

Time passes.

He doesn’t talk.

Time passes.

Em can smell the musk of hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze before the door even opens. Then it does, and Cash Money walks in. His puffy lips part into a very ugly and very nasty smile.

“Well, well, well.”

He pulls up a chair and sits down. Em stays on the floor.

“Just the guy I was looking for.”

Emmett: Em’s still on the floor. He smiles back. “That’s what the Green-Eyed Lady told me before she sent me. She isn’t very happy with how you handled things back there.”

Em seems comfortable on the floor. Lounging, even.

GM: The self-content, sleaze-dripping, puffy-lipped smile doesn’t go away.

But it stops spreading.

Emmett: “Yeah, she… she put a lot of work into me after everything went to shit. See, I stayed. Followed her instructions. You ran when things got rough. Me, I don’t blame you. Her? She seemed pretty… well. A lady like that, we know what she does when she’s pissed. I’d call her… peeved. But I tell her, I know Cash Money by rep. He’s a stand-up motherfucker, and he’s a redbone besides. So I say, let’s give him a shot to help us out. Let’s do him a solid so he can do us one.”

He chuckles. “Then your manager got his cardio in on me. Not such a tight ship you’re running here. They didn’t seem to think you needed to know what she wanted you to know. Maybe that’s because you don’t really care about what she has to say. Is that what it is, detective? She’ll want to know.”

He stretches on the floor, leans his back against the desk.

“And she put so much effort into me… into you, even. She doesn’t want you to lose your job. I said it’d be a waste, a stand-up motherfucker like you getting outed as a child rapist, and she… I mean, she didn’t agree, you know what she’s like, but she agreed to let me talk things over with you.”

GM: Cash Money grabs the collar of Em’s shirt with a long peanpole arm and yanks the teenager’s face to close to level with his crotch. The tabasco-tonic smell gets stronger.

“That so?”

Emmett: Em looks him dead in the eyes, and smiles a bloody smile.

“Yeah. It is. You want to send your boy out before I start talking real shit?”

“I’m sorry. Real shit, sir?”

I will never be able to eat hot sauce again.

If this were a movie, this would be the moment he said something along the lines if, “I bet you’re wondering how I ended up here,” and then cut away to the twinkling nights of a dance he no linger remembers fondly.

Instead he just stares up at those filthy, sleaze-leaking eyes, and smiles like he’s about to get jerked off.

This is not the staring contest to lose.

GM: That puffy-lipped, nasty smile starts to spread again.

“Give us some privacy.”

Cash Money’s other hand strokes a growing bulge in his pants as the bouncer backs out.

“If I don’t like what comes out of your mouth we’ll see how much I like what goes in.”

Emmett: Predictable.

“Damn, I’m surprised you still got love to give. Thought you’d have been pretty tired out after all the shit went down back at the fat man’s house.”

He doesn’t know the underboss’ name. But the fucker was fat. Feels like a safe bet.

“But I’m glad that you got out okay. Thing is, I even bought you a gift. Something a man like you, a man of the badge, and an entrepreneur, can appreciate.”

He pauses for a moment.

“Hard drive from the house. Your idiot manager stole it after I didn’t tell him what it was. Thought he could make some money off it, I guess. He doesn’t seem to think much of you, anyway. Man called you a bitch, said you didn’t really run this place anyway. Bouncer thought that was funny. You let your people talk about you like that?”

“Don’t take my word for it. Bet the sticky-fingered shit still has it on him, or stashed it somewhere he can tell us.”

GM: Cash Money stares down at Em.

The bulge in his crotch doesn’t sink.

TYLLEEEERRRR!” he bellows.

The bouncer quickly ducks his head in.

“Boss?”

“Get Josh up here.”

The bouncer’s head disappears.

Cash Money doesn’t let go of Em.

The bulge in his crotch still doesn’t sink.

Emmett: Em just nods. “Your people crawling over that place yet? I bey they’re wondering how the fuck it went down, in that NOPD, no-complicated-answers kinda way.”

GM: Cash Money doesn’t answer Em. Just smirks that same puffy-lipped smile and runs a hand along Em’s mouth. His fingers are long, and Em once heard or read somewhere that long fingers (somehow) convey intelligence, but on Cash Money they just seem… like too-long dicks straining into too-tight condoms. He can feel an almost slime-like sleaze secreting through them. Like holes in those same condoms.

It’s not too much longer before Josh comes in.

“Yeah?”

Emmett: Em smiles at him.

GM: Cash Money lets go of Em and stands up from his chair.

“Who runs this place?” he asks.

“You,” says Josh.

“What’s that in your jacket?”

“What’s what?”

“Take off your jacket.”

Josh looks confused. “What’s what in my jacket?”

Cash Money pulls out a handgun from a shoulder holster.

“Off.”

Josh looks at him, then takes off the jacket.

“What’s that in it?” Cash Money asks.

Josh reaches into one of the pockets and holds up a wad of bills.

“You fucking deaf? What is that?”

“Money,” says Josh.

“Money? Where’d you get it?”

Emmett: Em’s got his hands behind his head.

GM: Josh looks at the gun and gives a slow, almost half-hearted shrug.

“Lotta places.”

“Don’t know where it’s from?” asks Cash Money.

“Could be a lotta places.”

“It from me?”

“No.”

Em thought it hurt when Sami hit him with the gun. It did hurt.

But when Cash Money does it, there’s an awful crunch and thick spray of blood. Josh howls and falls to his knees.

“You’re a fucking liar, Josh.”

The man’s voice is getting high as he backs away. “Said I d-”

Cash Money grabs the scruff of his shirt.

“You said it wasn’t from me. So you did know where it’s from. You fucking liar.”

“M-meant I d-”

“What else’s in the jacket?”

“There’s a-”

Cash Money grabs the hard drive out of it. Looks it over.

“The fuck is this?”

“It’s-”

Cash Money smashes the gun over his already broken nose. The crunch is fainter this time, but there’s a harder crack. There’s more blood.

“You fucking liar.”

“I WAS GONNA T-”

There’s another crack from Josh’s nose. Another from his head, hitting the wall. His face is soaked in red.

“You’re a fucking liar.”

Cash Money drops the hard drive into one of the pockets of his ballooning coat.

“Who runs this place?”

Josh holds up his hands placatingly. “Y-you, d-”

Bloody teeth fly, hitting the now-wet carpet with light red little tinkles as Cash Money smashes the gun across his mouth.

“You fucking liar.”

“I—THAID—”

Josh hacks up blood as he slurs.

Emmett: He should feel bad. He knows he should feel bad. Not even morally. There should be a part of his brain that responds with sorrow and empathy for this fucking wretch. Biologically. He thinks he saw a documentary about that once. Maybe not. He hates documentaries.

He knows he should feel bad. And maybe he would have yesterday.

But it’s tonight, and all he feels as he watches the bully turned victim is a vicious, vindictive satisfaction.

He take advantage of Cash Money’s preoocupation to rise slowly to his feet.

It hurts, and the chemical wall isolating him from his agony is barely enough. But it does not crack. He leans, bruised and cut and shot and bleeding but unbroken, goddammit, unfuckingbroken, against Cash Money’s desk like he belongs there and he looks down at Josh, and he winks.

I warned you. Bitch.

GM: The older man stares at him with a look of pure hate before Cash Money interrupts, “Who runs this place?”

When the glaring man is slow to respond, Cash Money smashes the gun over his mouth again. There’s more red and white little tinkles against the dirty carpet as the dirtier cop crabs Josh by his shirt.

“I said, who the fuck runs this place?”

“Y-thou d-” Josh starts to answer, before there’s another sharp, wet crack. His face is almost completely red.

“You’re a fucking liar. Hear you said I was a bitch.”

Mouton un-buckles his belt.

“You’re my bitch.”

Emmett: “Stole from you, too,” Em says helpfully.

“That’s your gift he took.”

GM: He unzips his fly.

Emmett: This part, he doesn’t feel the need to watch.

He studies his nails.

GM: With his gaze averted, all Em hears is, “Start sucking.”

Emmett: Yikes.

GM: Em can’t see the man’s just face. Just hears the slurred, wet, half-coherent sounds of panicked objection and instinctive revulsion.

There’s another painfully wet crack.

“Start sucking or I’ll blow your fucking brains out.”

Emmett: Can I stop this? Even if I cared enough to? Maybe. Or maybe I just get myself raped for the trouble. Nothing for it, now. Congratulations, Josh, you weren’t even that fun to ruin. I guess that’s what being nobody gets you.

He lets Cash Money do what he’s going to do, and absentmindedly keeps his eyes on his watch.

GM: Em can’t see it. But he hears it. The sounds of sucking. Labored nasal breathing. Wet, blocked-off coughs and sputters.

MMF-HHMF-!”

MMMMF! HMM-MMMMMFFFF!!”

Emmett: His nails are really out of control.

GM: It goes on for a while. The guttural sounds get increasingly loud and choked. At one point, the sounds of labored nasal breathing suddenly cut off, and the muffled vocal sounds become downright panicked. He hears sounds of motion cut off by another sharp, wet crack. He remembers the way Cash Money pinched Sami’s nose shut and laughed as she struggled to breathe past his cock.

He laughs again here, too.

It goes on a while longer. Cash Money makes conversation a few times.

“Move your tongue more, Josh.”

“I feel like you aren’t enjoying this.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Good boy.”

“Done this before?”

“You have done this before. You’re a fucking natural, you fat little faggot.”

“No wonder only a couple girls said you fucked them.”

“Yeah. You were born for this.”

“Take my balls, Josh.”

“Yeah. That’s good.”

“Let’s see how much I can fit in.”

“Damn. You got a real a big mouth, Josh.”

“Real big mouth. Not many girls who can handle all of me.”

“Mmm, yeah.”

“Lick my balls, Josh.”

“Oh, you’re good.”

Emmett: He’s seen this episode before.

GM: The ‘episode’ plays.

On.

And on.

And on.

“Good boy, Josh. Swallow. Swallow for daddy.”

The gun’s safety clicks.

“I said swallow, you sick little faggot. Swallow for daddy.”

There’s a gulp.

“Good boy.”

There’s the sound of a fly zipping.

“Get the fuck out of my club, you cocksucker.”

Josh looks like he’s been fed poison as he staggers out of the room, rasping laboriously for breath as one hand clutches his shattered nose.

Cash Money smirks that same puffy-lipped smirk after Josh, as if he’s read the next few lines of a joke he alone gets, and closes the door.

Emmett: Em just watches him go.

“That,” he says when the door closes, “was metal. You don’t fuck around, detective. That’s what I thought about you, and I’m glad I was right, because men like you, hard men, they make good business decisions. You ready to talk business? Because I think you and I, we can do a lot for each other.”

GM: Cash Money whirls. Pain explodes through Em’s belly as the dirty cop drives a fist into it. He hits a lot harder than Josh did. There’s a second, duller impact as the floor hits his ass.

Cash Money pulls up a chair, sits down, and then stares down.

“You’re gonna tell me everything that happened after the bitch started shooting.”

Emmett: He takes the hit, and he stays down, but he’s perched on his elbows and he’s laughing.

“Oh, it’s like that? Okay. First, you ran. Then the rest of us muscled in, got the gun from her. My cousin, he made a decision. He killed her.” Em makes a face. “I didn’t like that. Neither did the Green-Eyed Lady. So she made Jermaine stay still and we had a nice, long talk.”

“Made them all stand still. You know how she does.”

GM: Cash Money just stares down at Em. There’s a dangerous look in his mud-colored eyes.

Emmett: He keeps his eyes on Cash Money. He rises to his feet, his weak foot starting first, letting the petty fucker see how easy he is to kick over. As if daring him to try.

It doesn’t matter how often he’s knocked down. It doesn’t matter how scary this fuming man-baby throws a fit. As long as he has legs to stand on, he’ll stand.

“She told me she has plans for me. Plans for my girl. And she wasn’t about to throw it all away because of my gangbanger cousin wanted to tie up loose ends. So you know what we did? We opened up my cousin’s throat. We cut off one of Dino’s nuts. I even got to feed it to her cute little fuck-pet. And then she did a dance and she bought my girl back to life.

He doesn’t have to fake the profane wonder, the awe in his voice. “What a lady, huh? Strange times we’re living in, that’s for sure. You ever seen somebody dead come back to life? It’s a hell of a thing. So, my girl came back to us, all screaming and shit, and then our new sugar mama told us the score. How she’ll be keeping an eye on us, how we owe her big—and yes we do— and how it was never too soon to start working that debt off. And we chatted. About all kinds of things.”

“Rick—can I call you Rick? I have to admit, she was really disappointed by how you handled things. I mean, you being a cop and all. I mean, you didn’t see her running. She was always in control. She always is. I asked her about you, you wanna know what she said? She said you were smart, when you wanted to be, but you have a hard time following orders. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? She wanted to cut you out of the picture for running. Those were her words, not mine. Not sure what she meant. But I says to her, ‘hey, with who he knows, he’s a good guy to keep around, that Cash Money Mouton. And she admitted I had a point, and she says, ‘He owes me for rabbiting, be a dear and let him know,’ and I say, sure thing ma’am. I mean, I’m just a good foot soldier, you know? Doing my part.” He chuckles darkly.

It’s him looking down at Cash Money, now. He feels the same way he did when he chased Sami from the restaurant, when he drove her to a nightmare for both of them.

Emmett hates losing. He will not lose tonight. He will cheat and steal and rape a kill a thousand times to never lose again.

Not to some tabasco-stinking, greasy-haired beanpole badge-wearing face-fucking not-worth-the-shit-off-his-boot excuse for a redbone like Mouton.

GM: Cash Money’s hand shoots out to clamp around Em’s throat. He could swear there’s an almost slimy texture to the dirty cop’s skin. He already feels filthier.

“Really.”

There’s a dangerous glint in the redbone’s muddy eyes, like a prison shiv hidden in shit. Because that is where they hide those things. Somewhere too repulsive to ever search.

“We thought the niggers did for Dino.”

Emmett: “Y… eah,” Em chokes past the man’s grip. “‘Cause I… did it up nice… for y’all. How’d you… like the… tagging? Nice… touch… right?”

GM: The beanpole-framed man rises from his seat, towering over Em.

“Yeah.”

“It was nice. Real nice. Open and shut, we thought. Maneater’s already gone hunting for the BloodHounds.”

“Well, well, well.”

Emmett: “Yeah… you… have one problem, though.”

GM: The puffy-lipped smirk returns as thin but strong fingers tighten around Em’s windpipe.

“You have more. You stupid fuck. You stupid little boy. She won’t protect you. Not from Maneater once Fat Benny and The Croc hear you touched a made man.”

The smirk gives way to a real smile. A nasty, dirty smile. It spreads over his face like a urine stain over too-small paper towel.

“But don’t worry, kid. This’ll be our little secret.”

“I think you’re right. I think there is a lot we can do for each other.”

Em can feel a renewed bulge from the man’s crotch pressing against his face.

Emmett: Em just raises an eyebrow. “Yeah… like I can stop the tape of what happened getting… sent… to the Times-Picayune.

He blows a raspberry.

“Your uncle… loves press, don’t he?”

GM: The smile halts its spread as shivs stab out from Cash Money’s eyes. Em’s throat burns as too-hard fingers tighten.

“Where. Is it.”

Emmett: He winks. “Harder… daddy.”

GM: Em gets his wish.

The cop’s next backhand sends him reeling, blood flying from Cash Money’s newly-reddened knuckles.

Long peanbole arms grab his shoulders and slam him chest-first against the desk. Papers fly as his chin painfully cracks.

Emmett: It’s his floor Em’s spitting blood on.

GM: There’s a rip as Cash Money pulls down Em’s pants, then the sound of a fly unzipping.

Emmett: Okay. Time for plan B.

He waits until he feels the tumescent flesh against his buttock to pull the knife.

It goes into Cash Money’s thigh.

Not between them.

He does need the fucker at least somewhat amenable.

Next, he’s turning and spitting in the horny fucker’s eyes.

Then he’s taking his good foot and planting it in his balls.

“You’re real bad at taking a hint, ain’t ya?”

He takes advantage of the moment and tries to shove the filthy cop onto his ass.

“Get that gun out. Get it out.”

His spindly arms aren’t good for much. But this idiot isn’t heavy when he’s screaming.

“Kill me, and you’re done. Do you get that? Can you add, motherfucker? You seem to have trouble adding two and two together.”

GM: The switchblade sinks into one of Cash Money’s hairy legs with a satisfying gout of red. The dirty cop howls with pain. He might be beanpole-thin, but as the ‘girls could beat you up’ half-unconscious teenager can attest, the redbone cop is strong too as he smashes his fist across Em’s face with another savage backhand. Em tastes hot blood as he crashes against the wall.

Cash Money draws the gun.

Emmett: Em meets his eyes.

“Do it, and your world is over.”

“Your club. Your job. All the free pussy. Over.”

GM: Cash Money pulls the trigger just as the door slams open. Em sees wood, then a hole to his side as another ear-rending explosion splits the air.

There’s another voice. Deep and rough like grinding rocks.

“Where.”

The door swings back away.

A giant strides through. It’s almost comical how large he is. He’s like something out of a cartoon. The black hair atop his cabbage-shaped head brushes against the doorway’s top, and he’s so wide he has to enter sideways. His shirt barely seems to contain his barrel-like chest, and his meaty fists are the size of garden spades—and look scarcely less hard. His arms are as thick as young trees. He seems almost wider than he does tall. He has to be out of a cartoon.

But he’s there.

Real.

Dressed in a tent-sized black suit, black tie, and white dress shirt.

“Maneater!?” gawks Cash Money.

“Where,” the giant repeats in a grinding voice. “Is it.”

Emmett: He holds up his hands. “Cooperating, uh, Maneater, sir, but, um. What?”

He thinks he knows, but it’s a sinking kind of knowing. And if he lets him know he knows, he’s definitely fucked instead of mostly.

GM: The giant’s head turns towards Em as he fully enters the room, his wide frame actually blocking the door behind him. One of his ham-like hands casually drags the now-motionless bouncer by the scruff of his shirt.

“Hard drive.”

“Where.”

Emmett: “Oh! That hard dri—fuck!” He looks Cash Money dead in the eyes.

You rapist, cro-magnon shit-eating prick. I don’t like you, and you don’t like me, but if you fuck this up, we’re both dead. So don’t. Fuck this. Up.

Thinking about it later, he’ll realize he was thinking to himself as much as Mouton.

“Ok, just give it to him! It was all that nigger Josh’s fault! We should have killed him ‘stead of just beating him to shit. I mean, it’s like you said, you were gonna hand it right over anyway. Imagine if we listened to a goddamn word that cocksucker said.”

Man, Josh really chose the wrong place to work.

GM: A ham-sized hand clamps around Em’s throat. A wall slams into his back, and then he’s actually staring down at the giant as he feels air beneath his feet.

“Give it,” Maneater grinds.

“Now.”

Emmett: He feebly gestures at Mouton, miming opening a jacket.

Then he looks at Cash Money’s shit-colored eyes, internally screams, and mouths, uncle.

GM: Cash Money’s puffy-lipped smirk returns like a spreading cumstain as he sees Maneater grab Em.

When the giant’s eyes turn on him, he all but throws the hard drive at the pair.

“It was the niggers, Maneater! They took it! I stole it off!”

Emmett: "Fucking… niggers… " Em agrees.

GM: Em hits the floor with a crash as Maneater’s fist unclenches.

“How. When.”

A single massive hand closes fully over the hard drive and tucks it into a breast pocket.

Emmett: “This nigger Josh, Mouton just threw him out. He had it. Has friends in-in some stupid g-gang. Said w-we should sell it. But Mouton wasn’t about it. Because he has enough money, and ain’t nothing less worth b-buying than enemies who you r-respect so much. That’s… that’s what you said, right C-cash Money?”

GM: Cash Money nods quickly.

“We got a good thing, Maneater. Nigger wanted to keep it. I beat the shit out of him. You can see it.”

Maneater looks between the two.

Then he asks:

“Why shouldn’t I eat you?”

His face is serious.

Dead serious.

Emmett: Of course. Of course this is the situation I’m in. Of course. The worst part about shit like this is nobody’ll believe me if I try to bitch about it.

“Because Cash Money, he’s a good friend,” he says weakly. “Best cop in town. Nephew of an even bigger cop.”

GM: “I got a badge, Maneater,” Cash Money quickly adds. “The Croc doesn’t want that heat. Not after tonight.”

Cash Money doesn’t volunteer a reason for Em.

Emmett: "And me because I’m… I’m… "

THINK!

“…because I’m Cajun,” he says. “You ever had Cajun food? Man, you’ll be shitting for… for fucking weeks. I mean, real shits, shits with gator scales. You’ll be flushing fucking gumbo down the pipes, you know, and I feel like you have enough problems with toilets already. Also, I’m funny. I think. I mean, c-can you put a price on entertainment? Plus, I think I have HIV. That’s a problem, right?”

GM: Maneater stares at him. Em’s been looked at in his share of uncomfortable ways before, but never any like this. The hunger in the giant’s eyes feels uncomfortably nonsexual.

Then he laughs. It’s a deep, rumbling sound like an old truck engine.

“Funny.”

“He’s getting away,” Cash Money adds. “You know how niggers run.”

Emmett: “Yeah, but we slowed him down for you.”

GM: “I kicked the shit out of him. He’ll be slow.”

Maneater looks between them.

“Stay here. Or I’ll crush your fucking heads in.”

He turns sideways to fit his suited bulk through the door. Em can hear the stairs groaning beneath his weight.

Cash Money un-holsters his gun and carefully checks the ammo.

Emmett: “Um. Sorry I stabbed you. Things got kinda heated. But if I die, there’s nobody to stop that tape hitting fucking Isaiah White’s desk, and if you die, I don’t have anybody to help keep up the shit about the Bloodhounds. I need you, you need me. And I’ll even throw in an apology for all the stupid shit I said. Truce?”

“Sir. Detective.”

GM: An ugly, piss-swallowing scowl returns to Cash Money’s face.

“The fuck did you do with that tape?”

Emmett: “Gave it to a friend we both know I’m not gonna tell you. He’ll mail it in if he doesn’t hear from me in a month. Look, I don’t wanna see you get fucked over. Not when I’m on it too. It’s a nuke. Only makes sense to use it if I’m gonna die anyway. I won’t try twist your arm around it or any of that shit. It’s just a reason for you not to kill me. You’re a businessman. You can appreciate that shit.”

He scratches his nose. “You ever want to fuck more high school girls, ones that aren’t fucking crazy, I can get them to you, too. I can play nice. Shit, I’ll owe you, too. Bet that. You’d be doing me a favor, and one for her, too, our mutual lady friend. I didn’t mean to piss you off so bad, but you know, I’ve kinda had a long night. But you run this place. Wasn’t right of me to come in here all demanding and shit. I see that now.”

Motherfuck, I just want to go to a hospital. Sweet, sweet morphine. Fuck me.

“Think of me as an investment, too. I mean, this is the kind if shit I get up to in high school, imagine in a few years when I’m ripping off old ladies for their pensions. We can make a lot of money together, you see your way to doing me a little good now. Why would I wanna fuck that up by fucking you up?”

GM: Cash Money points the gun at Em.

“You’re gonna tell me who this friend is.”

“Maybe then I’ll forgive you.”

Emmett: “Look, we both know if I do you’ll kill me. I mean, I’m stupid, but I’m not that kind of stupid. Come on, I’m trying to make things right. Plus, if I’m dead when he gets back with Josh’s poor fucking ass, who’s gonna back up your story? He might fuck you up before Maneater gobbles him down. Dying nigger might say all kinds if crazy lies to fuck you up.”

He shrugs. “Look, you don’t have to like me, or forgive me. Not asking you to. I sure as fuck ain’t forgivin’ you. But can’t you let me make you some money, scratch your back? The tape stays out there, but as long as I’m breathin’, it also stays quiet. My face is in there, too. Why would I release that shit?”

“And if you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll just hurt this punk ‘till he squeals,’ that’s cool, but I’m not gonna break easily, and even if I did you’ll have to go looking for this guy out of town and out of your jurisdiction. It’ll be a pain in the ass for all involved. Or. I can owe you, big time. I can put in a word for you with the green-eyed gal, tell her how you came through for us. But you just hurt me, rape me, whatever, I’m just gonna go quiet until you have to kill me. Same as my girl did earlier tonight. I seem like a motherfucker who wimps out easy? I walked in here already shot. If I was gonna be easy to break, bet it would have happened by now. But I can’t afford to, so I won’t. Come on. Let me be your friend. I’ll even throw in a few secrets about where the Bloodhounds like to hang so you can play hero.”

GM: The gun’s safety clicks off.

“Everyone breaks if you hurt them long enough, little boy.”

Cash Money smirks like he’s just told the punchline to life’s funniest joke, but there’s a sharper, even uglier and sneer-like cast to it as red continues to ooze from his stabbed leg.

“Everyone.”

Cash Money aims the gun at Em’s already sore, hurting leg.

“You’re gonna tell the truth. About how this went down. About how you fucked a made man.”

“And the second she says you’re not worth shit, or that tape gets out, I’m not gonna fuck you with my tape. I’m gonna fuck you with my cock. I’m gonna do you over my desk until your ass bleeds black. Then, I’m gonna sell you to some people who’ll have you begging for another round on my desk, and a gun to stick in your mouth, after what they put you through.”

Emmett: “That’s a hell of a threat. Great threat. Terrifying. There’s only one problem with it.”

“My plan to fuck up the Bloodhounds isn’t mine. What, you think I’m that quick in my feet? I’m following orders, and she sent me here expecting you to cooperate. She’s blackmailing you. Not me. You think it was my call to come here? She sent me, and if I’m not around to tell her how you did me, she’s going to wonder what exactly got so fucked up. You wanna take it out on me, fine. She’s still going to see to it you’re fucked three ways from Tuesday. Unless I can tell her what a good boy you’ve been. How you’re able to give her what she wants, which is the mob and cops chomping at the Bloodhounds. How clever you were, coming up with framing Josh for lifting the hard drive and spinning Maneater around like that. How good a friend you are to have. But that offer only stays on the table if I’m not obviously worse off from coming here than I was coming in.”

GM: “Fuck your bullshit.”

The gun explodes.

Em hits the ground with a thud. His leg feels like it’s on fire.

“I think I don’t need to hurt you after all. Your girl, huh.”

“I wondered where the bitch went.”

Cash Money picks up a phone from the desk.

“Derrick. Send someone out. No. Make it one of the girls. Taking a smoke break. She’s looking for a white girl. Young. Black hair.”

Emmett: The way his voice sounds is nothing he can be proud of. It’s weak and raw and broken in two, more yelp than could ever be a bark.

“Wait.”

Emmett hates losing. Goddammit, but he hates losing. He hates feeling the same way he’s felt his entire life, wretched and helpless and in the hands of others who get to be right because they have more. More money. More experience. More leverage. More everything. He hates losing, and he hates himself for being a loser.

He hates it like a cigarette burn. Like a knife sawing at his balls. He hates it like he hated being raped.

Were it just him, just now, he might spit one last time. Let them hurt him. Let them murder him. He will not lose. He will not break.

But she has suffered too much, and too much because of him.

He will not see her brought in here. He will die first, be raped first, throw himself into the darkest of dungeons and sing for his captors before he sees Sami’s eyes confronted with pain again.

He will never, ever break. That is what he has told himself this whole night, this long nightmare. It is the lie that lets him walk on a shot foot.

But he will break for her. Not will. Must. He will shatter and scar and bleed to never see her hurt like he hurt her.

“You win,” he says. “You win. I’ll confess. I’ll do what you want. I can’t get you the tape back, but I’ll give you what you need to fuck me. Uncle. You’re Cash Money, and I’m just some fuck the green-eyed lady chose. Please. You win. I’ll do it your way. I’ll tell the green-eyed lady whatever you want, too. Just… please. Keep it between us, sir.”

He isn’t sure it’s the neatest groveling he can do. But it’s all he has to give.

GM: Cash Money’s puffy-lipped, spreading-cumstain smirk returns as swiftly and messily as a blown load.

“Good boy.”

“Now. Where’s the tape?”

He listens as Em tells him the Green-Eyed Lady told him to give it to a friend of hers, whose name he didn’t get, who showed up after the cleanup op. Cheap suit. Bad hair. Gatorskin shoes. Hispanic. Said he was going out of town for a while but the lady would be in touch with him. Didn’t tell him shit else.

By the time Em is done spinning the falsehood, Cash Money looks like someone has pissed in his mouth again.

Another employee, perhaps hearing the gunshot, ventures upstairs. Cash Money snarls and pistol-whips him across the face with another messy red crack.

“Get the fuck out! Get the fuck out! And tell that whore she’s in for the longest night of her life if she takes a fucking smoke break!”

The act of petty violence, however, is interrupted by a series of approaching and unmistakable heavy thumps.

Maneater turns sideways again to fit his bulk through the door. He’s pulling Josh after him, who’s babbling, begging, and wheezing through his shattered face.

“Please… I got… a kid… "

Emmett: Em just stares blankly. All the satisfaction of his petty vengeance has already faded, leaving nothing behind.

Josh truly is dying for nothing. That kid, if he exists, and if he gives half a shit for his bullying father, orphaned for nothing. But not for nobody. For him.

He feels cold, but mostly he thinks of a hospital bed and sweet, true painkillers.

GM: There’s a while to go yet before those.

There’s a terrific crash as Maneater throws Josh onto Cash Money’s desk like a rag doll, then grinds out, “You fucked us.”

With those words, he pulls a carving knife out from his jacket and swiftly saws open Josh’s belly with a practiced-feeling air. Blood messily spurts everywhere. Red flecks Em’s face and clothes. The stench that wafts up his already bloody-crusted nose is beyond foul as Josh loses control of his bowels. Piss and shit gets everywhere as he writhes, flops, and screams like a fish being gutted. There’s a hideous scrape-crunch as Maneater saws, pries, and punches his way through Josh’s gorily exposed ribcage, then rips out the man’s still-beating heart with his bare hands. Even Cash Money stares dumbfoundedly as the giant mafioso roars like a gorilla, thrusts the heart into his mouth, and then messily gnashes, chews, and swallows. Blood freely runs down his meaty chins like drool as he licks his lips.

He sniffs the air for a moment. Then he seizes Em and Cash Money by their throats in each of his hands and grinds out, “Guns don’t stop me. Cops don’t stop me. God don’t stop me.”

Blood and chewed-up pieces of heart fleck from the giant’s mouth as he raves,

“You fuck us. I come for you. I find you. Find you anywhere. I kill you. I kill your family. I kill your dog. I kill your dog’s family. I eat them all. Slow. You watch. Then I eat you. Slow. Then you die. Slow. That’s how I fuck you. How I fucked God.”

“No more God. I killed Him. Ate Him. Angels. Jesus. Peter. Mary. Ate them too. Fuck them too. Like Him. I fucked Him. Ate Him. I am God. I am God.

Maneater’s mud-colored eyes burn madly in their sockets.

“Say. Say you understand. Say I am God.”

Emmett: “You’re God!” Em croaks. “You’re God and church and the president!”

He believes it, too.

GM: Maneater roars in Em’s face, his breath foul as he spits shredded bits of flesh, but his belly shakes and rumbles too.

It’s laughter.

“President.”

“You’re right. You’re funny.”

“You don’t like somebody. Call Maneater. I kill them. Eat them. For you.”

His hands don’t unclench from either man’s throat.

Emmett: “Th… thank… you,” Em gasps. He isn’t sure how the giant cannibal expects him to call, but he also suspects now isn’t the time to ask.

His eyes slide over to Cash Money’s. Linger for a moment.

Not a threat.

Not bluster.

No bluff.

He just wants those shit-colored eyes to see that he knows what that means, and that Mouton’s smart enough to know it too.

Whoever else Em might be, he’s the guy who Maneater owes.

GM: Cash Money’s eyes meet Em’s for a moment before he emphatically repeats, “Yer Gawd, Maneatuh, yer Gawd!” in a suddenly gumbo-thick accent as the mafioso’s crazed eyes turn to his.

Both men crash to the ground as Maneater un-clenches his fists. Josh’s heartless, torn-open corpse blankly stares up at them with empty eyes and a gaping mouth.

Maneater adjusts his tie and gives Cash Money an address in Slidell where he can send the corpse to get rid of it, adding, “Mom’s hungry too.”

With those final words, he turns his suited bulk sideways to fit through the door again. Stairs groan in the wake of his descent.

Cash Money watches him go, then picks up the phone. Some people come up. They take away the corpse. They resist throwing up after the dirty cop snarls he’ll shoot anyone who does.

Emmett: That’s the second time that’s worked tonight. Maybe a new bulimia treatment.

GM: Cash Money watches them go, sneers, and then kicks Em in the leg. His wounded leg. It hurts only a little less than getting shot. There’s already a pool of blood spreading underneath it.

“Careful, kid. You’ll have to get that thing amputated if you don’t take better care of it. Life as an amputee sucks like a crack whore, I hear.”

“Here’s how this is gonna go.”

Cash Money takes out a tape recorder, then tells Em to confess everything that happened into it. Starting with how he brought Sami to Giacona Manse. Ending before he walked into the Barely Legal. Leaving Cash Money out.

He waits until Em is done, then says, “This’ll be a little insurance on my part,” as he tucks it back away. “That tape she has fucks me. You’re fucked too. Your girlfriend’s fucked too. By the mob and the cops. In fact, I think I’ll take a leaf out of your book and send this somewhere that you’re fucked even if I don’t ever bend the two of you over my desk.”

“Pretty face like yours could make a lot of friends up at the Farm. You know they make punks in prisons wear makeup? Sometimes wigs and dresses, too. They’re real popular.”

“Not as busy as your girlfriend, though. That tape fucks me, that little film shoot we did will be just the warm-up act.”

Once that business is out of the way, Cash Money smirks and says, “You said you wanted to work for me. Okay.” He reaches into a desk cabinet and tosses Em a bag of weed.

“Sell that at your high school. Then we’ll see what else you can do for me.”

He then takes Em’s wallet, plucks out all of its cash, and sticks it in his jacket pocket.

“And so you don’t get any funny ideas, kid, this isn’t a partnership. You work for me. Forget that, give me lip, and we’ll find out if you or Josh gives the better blowjob. Stiff me, and I’ll take what you owe out of your hide. Or maybe your girlfriend’s gash. Maybe both. You two’d look real cute bent over my desk next to each other.”

As Em agonizingly ambles to his feet, a puffy-lipped smirks spreads across Cash Money’s face.

“That mouth’s gonna get you killed someday.”


Friday night, 28 September 2007, AM

Emmett: He doesn’t sit down in the passenger side of the car so much as he falls.

“I did it,” he tries to say.

Instead it sounds like “Ah did id.”

He doesn’t bother to point out the new gunshot wound or bruises. He’s sure they’re plenty obvious.

“Weah, we’re gwine wahna go.”

Knew I should have gone for heroin.

GM: Sami blinks slowly. She doesn’t look as shit-kicked as Em. She also doesn’t look like sitting alone in a dark car with nothing to do but think has done her any favors.

“What?”

Emmett: “Drive, please,” he says, enunciating.

GM: Sami doesn’t look glad, but she doesn’t hesitate for a second. She drives.

Emmett: “You’re safe,” is the next thing he says. “I got shot again. D-do you still wanna kill me?”

He doesn’t sound like he’s complaining, or bitter. Just done with everything.

“If not… gonna need. Hospital. Story.”

GM: “I’m not going to the hospital,” Sami immediately says.

Emmett: “Okay.”

He thinks. “Where do you wanna do this?”

GM: “Do what?”

Emmett: “Kill me. Still think Bayou’s the… bet. Gators. Chompy chompy. No evidence.”

GM: “I’m not fucking up my life worse killing you.”

Emmett: “Okay. I’m gonna bleed out.”

His breathing feels labored.

“What scares you about the hosp-hospital? I m-might c-come up with something. To help. I don’t know.”

How much blood has he lost already? More than he has left to lose, he suspects.

GM: “It’s not my fucking problem,” Sami answers. “I’m not answering any doctors’ questions. I’m not getting sucked into this.”

Emmett: “It’s my problem,” he agrees, speaking slowly to stop himself tripping over his kwn. “But I’m bleeding out. You might be able to drop me at TMC. But they’ll have questions. Questions I can’t answer.”

GM: Sami doesn’t say anything again for a while.

She looks at the bag of weed.

Emmett: “I’m selling it for him.”

GM: Sami drives for a bit. Then she parks the car. They’re in the CBD. Just a little ways off from the Quarter. She stuffs a good hit’s worth of weed into her coat pocket, shoulders the bag of pilfered stuff from the mobster’s house, and opens the door to get out.

Emmett: “You… staying… in town?”

GM: “I guess.”

Emmett: “Okay.” He looks like a trainwreck survivor got mugged, beaten, raped and shot, so he has a feeling smiling won’t work. “If I can’t turn the weed over, he… promised things. He’ll come after me. Maybe after you, too.I won’t be able to sell from the hospital with police up my ass.” He lays out the problems without whining.

“Few ways we could do things. One is you leave me here, somewhere, wherever. They find me in a few days and there’s no explanation. Kind of solves my problems. But it makes yours worse, because now he needs me around, too. Kind of… fucking blows, but I need to live a little longer. Which means.”

“It’s another game of… t-two options. First is the hospital. You don’t want to go there, but I bet, we do it right… you’ll get some of what you’ve been looking for. All this time. Popularity. Cécilia looking bad. All of it. But we need the hospital. I’m sorry.”

“Unless… you wanna do a little, more driving. To the Garden District. M-might be able to fix things with Abelia. Might get her to help you.”

“Or, I guess, you can leave me here, take the weed, call 911. I’ll keep your name out of it from the cops, but then there’s nobody to deal with Mouton. But m-maybe not. You’re… fucking scary when you want to be.”

“It’s your choice, Sami. Couldn’t do shit to change your mind now if I wanted to. If I were you, I’d probably leave my ass no matter what I said. Can’t trust a bastard like me. But you aren’t me. If you stay strong by me now… I’ll never stop ‘til you have everything you ever wanted. Never.”

When he’s done, he slumps in his seat, spent by the precious breath expended into words.

There’s so little time left.

GM: Sami looks at him for a while. There’s an emptiness to her gaze and Em wonders how much his words are getting through. She doesn’t look like she’s been shot after a trainwreck, but the rest of his descriptor seems to fit her aptly enough still.

She finally picks up the bag of weed, stuffs it into the larger bag, and walks away from the car.

Em’s still-bleeding leg throbs.

Emmett: Well.

Tough to argue with that.

He considers his own options for a moment.

GM: Sami disappears into the crowds. They’re thick enough on a Friday night. Cars honk and drive past. His leg burns.

Emmett: Nothing for it. Nothing good.

He stumbles from the car. The night is hot and gives him no life, no freedom.

His blood runs down his legs and hand and face and there is no baptism in the stains it leaves.

He screams. He might be shouting for help, or his father, or maybe even a Maman.

He falls.

When he wakes, there will be questions, and anger, and maybe even handcuffs.

But for now, there is only blackness. He savors it while it lasts.

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Emmett II, Chapter VIII
Emmett's Revenge

“Some lines shouldn’t be crossed. But how the fuck am I supposed to know where they are?”
Emmett Delacroix


Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007

Emmett: New Orleans is a lot of things to a lot of people. The only thing it is to all of them is hot. Even in the fall seasons, the city’s still tonguing the Gulf of Mexico from between its legs, and the air hangs wet and heavy with Louisiana’s slap-you-in-the-face -with-your-own-sweat kind of heat. Anybody with half a brain spends the zenith of swamp-baking sun height indoors, or at least the shade.

Anybody, though, does not mean everybody.

Take the mailman (or her; Em is no sexist, and it’s 2007 for crayon’ out loud). Nobody asks him, do they?

Enter the stranger, with a too-big smile and a six pack of (what do mailmen drink? Coors?) something cold.

GM: Lena’s mailman is a late-thirties-looking man with a wide nose, thick lips, and partial goatee dressed in the blue-eagled UPS uniform. He gives his name as Carl when Em asks, and is glad to have a cold beer, or two, or several. Early fall promises only marginal relief from the swelteringly muggy Louisiana heat.

Mailman.jpg
When they get to the heart of the matter, Carl’s answer is direct.

“Motherucker, you know what that is? Federal crime, federal prison, big-ass fine, and my job.”

He then adds without slowing, “So gimme more if you want the letter.”

Emmett: “I can see you mean business. Three hundred and I give you the number of a girl who’ll give you a bargain for that price. If that’s not your thing, I know all kinds of people in this city. All kinds of pies.”

GM: Carl holds out his hand.

“Gimme.”

Emmett: He doesn’t wait long. Six fifties folded into one slips from Em’s hand into Carl’s. It’s not as hard as making a quarter dance across his knuckles, but he imagines it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying to watch.

GM: Carl stuffs them into his pocket with the casual nonchalance of a Louisiana public employee for whom ‘kickbacks’ are synonymous with ‘salary’. He asks Em for a phone number to call when he has the letter, takes another one of the beers, then climbs back in his UPS van.

Another day, another dollar.


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

Emmett: Em thinks about Ron’s advice. It had felt low asking for it, but he already knows what kind of man his uncle was. Knows what kind of man Ron thinks his nephew is, expects him to be.

Another girl, he had explained. A wild card—too wild. She gave him a blowjob during auditions, but not she was making all kinds of noises about telling Cécilia and this and that and so on—women, right?

How would a man like Ron, he had asked, a man with his experience and charm and reputation handle things?

How would he put her back in place?

GM: “Well, Em, two things,” Ron answers casually. “One, how badly you want this girl to keep her mouth closed, and two, how pretty is she with it open?”

“There’s people I can call.”

Emmett: “I want her to respect me.”

He’s quiet for a moment, but he knows he needs to say it.

“To be scared of me.”

GM: “So fuck her without asking first, then. That usually does it.”

Emmett: “Sure, yeah, but this girl… this girl is something special.”

He doesn’t need to fake the admiration in his voice. Maybe there’s a fucked-up reason he can’t stop seeing Sami’s face in his dreams. But he prefers them to the nightmares of Abélia.

“She’s mean. Like, man mean. Like she’ll do anything to feel in charge. I need to do something special. I guess I’m thinking something with cameras. Something she can’t forget. Ever.”

Em drums his fingers on his leg.

Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.

But how the fuck is he supposed to know where they are?

“Ron… you know any guys in porn?”

GM: Ron guffaws at him.

“Am I an overweight black man?”

Emmett: “I forget sometimes, we look so much alike.”

GM: “Half my damn life ago. Yeah, I know guys in porn. I know girls in porn too.”

Emmett: “I’m thinking, a few scary guys in a room, hit her with some lights and maybe an offer to make it go down sweeter—high school girls have reputations. Self-image. Some things always stay the same, you know?”

This makes sense. This makes sense. This makes sense.

GM: “Yeah. They do. Your cuz ain’t bad if you’re looking for a scary guy.”

Emmett: He knows that already.

He isn’t sure why he asks. Nothing good can come of it.

But he does.

“Uncle Ron, does it ever fuck you up? Doing, you know, what we’re doing. What we do. Directing, I guess. The business. Do you ever get, you know… tired? Of things like this?”

He wonders if Ron’ll understand. He hopes so.

Because the worst part about the whole thing is Em loves Ron, and he knows Ron loves him.

GM: His uncle gives him a blank look.

“Shit, kid. This is onea the only ways to still have fun in the biz. The shit I put out these days, that’s what it is. Shit. It sells. It ain’t art. You only get to do art when you’re small time.”

Emmett: “You’re right. I’m just moping. Can you blame me? It’s time to actually start working. Lemme get you a drink.”

GM: Ron looks at him somberly. “Enjoy it while it lasts, if you’re serious about going into the biz. I mean it. This movie… treat her like, I don’t know, an actual fuckin’ girlfriend. Treat her right. Treat her gentle. Make her feel special.”

“Because after her,” he continues, and his voice isn’t without bitterness, “they’re all just gonna be fuckin’ whores.”

“This is your one shot, Em, if this movie hits,” he says intently, looking into Em’s eyes. “If it makes you big. Your one shot to make… to make some real fuckin’ art.”

Emmett: “You’re right, unc. You’re right.”

He pours and watches the bubbles well and pop.

“I’ll just have to enjoy her while she lasts.”


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

GM: “Em. ’Sup?” asks Jermaine over the phone.

Emmett: “Nothing good, just movie business. It’s dirty, Jermaine. Maybe I should take up your line of work, clean up my act.”

GM: There’s a hard laugh.

“Try me.”

Emmett: “I…”

For a moment he hesitates. The shame is there, even if he hasn’t processed it.

But he trusts Jermaine. He guesses if he can’t tell him, he can’t tell anybody.

“There’s this girl, who did something bad to me. And I don’t think I’ll be able to look at myself until I do something worse to her.”

He tells the story, plainly. “It wasn’t… I don’t know what it was. But I need to fix this, you know? Need to get even, more like. You know?”

He waits for the laughter, the taunt. He expects it.

But he hopes it might not come.

GM: But the world is an awful place full of terrible people. His hopes are in vain.

“Get even over what? Getting lucky?” laughs his cousin.

“Hell, I thought I had game, but only girls I’ve had try to gimme BJs on the spot are dope fiends. Never mind some real goddamn sex. Girls can’t keep their hands off you, can they, huh?”

Emmett: “I guess I did, guess I did… but it’s about power, you know? I mean, you get that. It’s about letting people know what they can do to you. Yeah, I’m not complaining, but how the fuck at I supposed to tell her what to do if that’s how she’s gonna go about it? But that’s all besides the point. I want to teach this bitch a lesson. You wanna help? It’ll be more fun for you than it was for me.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“Power.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“A’ight. When and where?”

Emmett: “I’ll text you the deets later. But maybe find one or two guys you trust who like white girls. And who maybe don’t mind fucking on camera. I’m talking it over with some friends of your dad.”

GM: “Oh, that’ll be fuckin’ hard. My face stays out.”

Emmett: “That ain’t hard. Who the fuck’s gonna want to see your face?” he laughs. “Hey man, I appreciate this. Thanks.”

GM: It doesn’t take too long for Em’s plan and the “film crew” to come together. He may be somewhat disappointed when Ron explains there is no such thing as “boilerplate” porn contracts.
As a general principle of contract law in the U.S. (which Ron knows pretty well as a director), you can’t force someone to specifically perform under a contract when they refuse to. There are legal routes to compensate the person who loses out on the bargained-for outcome (i.e., the contracted person may owe monetary damages), but that’s as far as it goes. This is why there is performance insurance for actors who are known to be unreliable.

None of that, of course, rules out forcing someone to participate in a porn film against their will. “God knows that happens,” Ron laughs. There are plenty of customers who get off to seeing crying girls in real terror and/or pain. You can’t fake that shit.

Well, you can. But it’s not like porn stars are known for their acting chops.

Hell, for “higher-class” companies, there’s completely legal ways to coerce girls into porn. Ron tells Em a story about a porn studio that’s famous for brand new actresses who only ever do porn once. The studio is also notorious for flying girls to Australia or California under the pretense of modeling for a day. When they arrive, they learn their return flight is contingent on signing a contract for a pornographic film they are told is for a private collector and will never get released online. If they walk, they’re free to go… but they’re also stranded. So they sign and do the scene, along with every ‘normal’ sex act someone can imagine, just to fly back home.

Plus, it’s not like a lot of girls know the ins and outs of contract law. They might think they’re on the hook after they sign, which is just as good as them being on a real hook. Producers in “more” exploitative studios sometimes make kidnapped girls sign completely fake contracts just so they have less incentive to try and escape.

Oh, another fun industry fact: FaceTorture is a “legal” big name notorious for scenes that are extremely abusive in every sense. They sign performers to contracts with a safeword to use if a shot gets to be too much… but the actors lose around 90% of their check if they use the safeword.

Then there’s the “extreme” studios, like Death Mask Productions. Ones that can’t ever find willing girls to do the things they have them do, and whose actresses wind up in missing persons reports—if they ever get reported at all. You can’t find their movies with a Qeeqle search. But they are online. There’s names for that kind of market, and those kinds of movies. Red room. Snuff. Black hole market.

“The people I’m hookin’ you up with ain’t… that,” Ron says slowly. “But listen good, Em.”

“Most girls in these guys’ films… they’re not like yours. Well-off, goin’ to a good school, with a family that gives a rat’s ass about ’em.”

“You get your girl to stay quiet about this. You get these guys angry, because your girl blabs and her family starts bringin’ in cops and lawyers… they won’t go to cops and lawyers to get payback on you. Understand?”

Emmett: “I understand. I’ll give her a good reason to keep quiet.” He smiles. “You know, Ron, you’re the only one in the family ever treated me like a real man. You need anything from me, say the word.”

“The guys you’re hooking me up with— they mobbed up, or just shady?”

GM: “They’ve killed people,” Ron answers bluntly, then smiles. “But don’t think nothin’ of it. You’re a grown man in my book.”

Emmett: They’ve killed people. He feels a little cold, but only little. Murder isn’t much worse than what he’s planning, by his figuring.

But Ron doesn’t challenge him. Doesn’t have a problem with it. Ron doesn’t judge.

Sometimes the best love is the kind that doesn’t ask any questions. Because it barely feels like love at all.


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

Emmett: It starts with texting her. His dad tried to take him hunting a few times and he hated it, but Em remembers one thing. You don’t want to scare the deer.

He doesn’t betray any of the pain or anxiety she’s caused him. How it takes him longer to fall asleep now, how sex suddenly seems not only unsatisfying but painful—these are things Em can not share, will never share.

Instead, when Elliott texts Sami it’s unabashedly flirty. It’s not crude, but he can’t afford to care about appearances anymore.

That was a great audition : ). I want to get to know you more—want to hang out Saturday?

And so on. He’s open to how she wants to spend the time. He also brings up that they’ll be ready to shoot some test footage that Saturday, if she wants to make her getting the part official.

i think we have a lot to talk about. You didn’t really let me finish last time. well, not what I was saying

GM: Sami seems amused and amenable to hanging out. She leaves it to Em to pick the venue.

Emmett: Everybody loves free ice cream.

Not Creole Creamery, though. He meets her at Stanley’s, a French Quarter place.

It’s closer to the place they’re shooting in.

Stanley.jpg
Stanley.jpg
He brings a flask of Ron’s good shit with him, too. Not laced. Just good old booze.

Flashing the ID Jermaine got him for his birthday, he also orders an Irish Coffee Milkshake (“Oh, and if you have any Nutella, do me a solid and ask them to mix some in, I don’t mind paying extra.”) And whatever Sami wants, of course.

GM: Em’s date orders the Chipotle Caesar Salad (“Romain Lettuce, Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic Parmesan Croutons, and Chipotle Caesar Dressing with Chicken”), the Cajun Spiced Ribs side (“BBQ Smoked Pork Ribs with Spicy Baked Beans and Potato Salad”), and Flirty Shirley (“Tito’s Vodka, Sprite, Grenadine”). For desert, she gets the Abita Root Beer Bourbon Float (“Two scoops of ice cream with Buffalo Trace Bourbon”). A flashed ID saying she’s 21 gets her both alcoholic confections.

Or rather, has Em get her both confections. They, and the two food items, are each some of the the most expensive items on the menu. Sami only eats about half of her food and samples just one of the Spiced Ribs, citing how a good figure “doesn’t maintain itself.” Em’s flask is also swiftly emptied and finds good company with his aching wallet.

“They have pancakes on the drinks menu,” she idly remarks as she looks it over. “What do they do here, blend them?”

Emmett: “Only one way to find out,” he laughs, and orders them.

He will not be outdone. Not again. He is not a victim tonight.

He keeps things light. Can’t scare away the deer. He jokes and yarns and tells her stories about Cécilia, great stories, utterly untrue. But Sami craves what Cécilia has, and jealousy makes people believers. He keeps things light, but tantalizing—always slightly escalating the energy of the conversation, always seeming almost on the cusp of proposition, but teasing, grinning. The mood is infectious, especially encouraged with alcohol.

GM: “What a prissy little bitch,” Sami laughs.

“No way.”

“And everyone goes on about how she’s Little Miss Perfect.”

Emmett: He’s curious about her, too. He wants her talking about herself, her life. She likes to talk, he can tell, so he does everything to encourage it.

It’s very different lying to her than Cécilia. With Cécilia, he felt guilty, at least at first. At least a little.

But when he lies to Sami, he knows he can’t afford to slip. Can’t let himself see her as anything but the girl he needs to break, because if he doesn’t, he suddenly knows he will not be able to stand against Abélia. The choice isn’t between innocent and guilty anymore. It’s fuck or get fucked.

He knows which he prefers.

GM: It’s plain Sami feels the same.

She talks about fucking him.

Casual little off-hand jokes at first, about “watching your drinks around me” when he takes his eyes off her for a moment. Entendres about “how well” she already knows him. She laughs about it, as the two get deeper in their cups. How it’s the “best of both worlds.” She already knows him at his most intimate, his most exposed, his most vulnerable, yet she remains opaque. Unknown. She gets to “keep my mystery” while “already knowing what’s waiting at the end with you.”

Amusement glitters in her eyes as she looks him up and down.

“I should do that to more boys,” she mentions idly. “It’s doing us both a favor, really.”

Emmett: It should make his skin crawl.

It should make him hate her.

But it doesn’t. He doesn’t have any of himself left to lose to her. So he laughs, too. He’s a good sport about it. He even teases her a little.

“Absolutely,” he agrees. “Not so much mystery, though.” He returns the gaze, and smirks slightly.

He doesn’t justify the claim. Doesn’t do a single thing to validate it. He just leaves it there, and continues, “You’re cute when you’re mean, you know. A lot of girls can’t make it look stylish. You do.”

GM: And for once, he’s being honest.

He does think it’s stylish. Cute, too. He thought so since their first meeting.

He had to know more.


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

Emmett: “Hey, you know Sami Watts?” Em says, after Cécilia picks up the phone.

GM: She doesn’t pick up. The line rings until voicemail.

“Hello, you’ve reached Cécilia Devillers. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Beeeep.

Emmett: “Hey, Cécilia—I realized I forgot to mention, I think I found our lead. Sami Watts, she’s in your grade I think. Do you know her? I thought you might have an opinion about it.” He pauses, then continues warmly, “‘Kay, have a good day, I’ll see you when you see me.”

Click.

GM: Time passes. Cécilia does not call back.

Emmett: Odd, but workable. He dials Bentley Downs next.

GM: “Hi, uh, who’s this?” asks the underclassman.

Emmett: “Hi, Bentley, it’s El.” His voice turns wry. “Director of Untitled Love Story Project. You got the part.”

GM: “Really? That’s great!” Bentley happily exclaims. “My dad says I have a lot of talent, like my mom did, but I thought he was just… well, what’s the part?”

Emmett: Ugh. What is the part?

“Well, he’s absolutely right,” he assures her automatically. " As for the role, you’re one of the lead’s best friends," he says simply. “You can make a lot of it your own. It’d be a shame for me to waste potential like yours. Hey, do you know Sami Watts? I think she goes to your school.”

GM: “Yeah, she’s a senior. We’re not really friends, but I know her. And that sounds great! Really great! When’s filming gonna start?”

Emmett: “Sometime in the next week, if I can get my way,” he says easily. “And you might want to start hanging around her a bit more, she’s playing the main role.”

He has a feeling that piece of information will spread pretty quickly. Bentley’s the kind of girl who talks.

“They don’t call it method acting for nothing.”

GM: “Oh, definitely! I can’t wait!” Bentley exclaims. “Um, what’s method acting?”

Emmett: “Don’t worry about it.”

Next he calls Isabel Flores. Idly, he wonders if he should reward himself with a trip to O’Tolley’s after tonight.

GM: “Hello, you’ve reached the Flores residence,” greets an older-sounding woman who doesn’t sound like Mrs. Flores.

Emmett: “Hello, I’m calling for Isabel or Mrs. Flores if she’s not home. Elliott Faustin, if she asks.”

GM: “Of course, young man. Please hold a moment.”

There’s a wait. Then,

“I hear you’ve been asking after my family, Elliot,” sounds a man’s deep voice.

Emmett: “Oh, is this Mr. Flores?” he asks, politely puzzled. “I hope the call isn’t a bother, sir, I was just trying to tell your daughter she got a part in the project she auditioned for. She’s a talented young woman.”

He makes a jerking off gesture with his free hand.

GM: “It’s not a bother, Elliot. I like to know what my family are up to.”

“Tell me about this project.”

Emmett: Oh.

He recognizes the tone immediately. The friendly, assertive swagger. The casual presumption.

He feels something like pity for a moment.

“Oh, it’s a student film,” he says happily, hedging for time. It isn’t really his problem the dad’s who he is, but he sympathizes with anybody keeping a secret from their parents. “I’m sure Isabel would love to tell you about it herself, but it’s just a student film project of mine. My girlfriend goes to school with Isabel. Cécilia Devillers. I think they’re close.”

A small protection, maybe, if his intentions are sinister.

And this is an awful world with awful people, so they probably are.

GM: “You know, Elliot, a lot of people I talk to think I served in the armed forces,” says Isabel’s presumed father. “I didn’t, even if I have nothing but respect for men who do.”

“One of the reasons people think that is because I like to hear a ‘sir’ every few sentences. Especially from young people. Is that understood?”

Emmett: Congratulations. Now I want to lie to you more.

“Oh absolutely, sir. I hope I didn’t cause any offense. My father’s the same way, and a diplomat. I have an uncle in the Marines, though. Great man, doesn’t take any nonsense the same way you don’t. Sir.”

Yeah, and he wants to fuck his daughter, too.

GM: “Your father has some work left to do with you, Elliot. But that’s better. Tell me about the role you want for my daughter in your movie.”

Emmett: “Absolutely, sir. Well, it’s a fine role for a young lady with manners, which she has in spades. I would say she plays a kind of paragon of virtue, a role model of sorts for a much more troubled protagonist. Do you have a favorite film, sir?”

Die Hard or Terminator, probably.

GM:Patton,” Mr. Flores answers.

“In the old days, Elliot, Hollywood had something called the production code. There were strict limits on what subjects films were allowed to address and how they were allowed to address them. The Catholic League of Decency was partly behind the old code.”

“In my household, my children don’t watch anything that doesn’t meet its standards. It’s helped keep the media from influencing them in unwholesome ways.”

“One of the terms of the old code was that all villains had to get what was coming to them at the end. Did you know that? It wasn’t just about not showing unwholesome subjects.”

Emmett: “Yes, I’m familiar with the time you’re talking about, sir. And I think I know what you’re driving towards. Are you a fan of Schaffner’s other work? I always loved Boys from Brazil.

Especially the ending. Where the Nazi gets eaten by dogs. That’s how you end a movie.

“Virtue is important to me, Mr. Flores. I don’t believe in misleading an audience about that. Or my cast.”

GM: “Good. You can mail a copy of your script to my address. I’ll decide if Isabel will participate in your movie after reading it.”

Emmett: He feels a sudden overwhelming spite. “Of course, sir. It would be my pleasure.”

And just for him, he adds, “And please, give my regards to Diana as well. You’re a very lucky man, sir. Have a good evening, now.”

He waits two seconds before hanging up.

Let’s hear you squirm, asshole.

GM: Em’s phone rings after he sets it down. The caller ID is the same number.

Emmett: He lets it go to voicemail. He could use some funny recordings.

GM: There’s none. The line simply remains silent.

Emmett: He calls the other McGehee tolerable actresses with big last names and mouths bigger than brains. He asks a few of them if they know Sami. He plays a good listener with some of the chattier ones and gathers what rumors he can.

GM: Em hears that Sami and Cécilia are friends. They hang out as part of the same clique.

Emmett: As promising as it is terrifying. He can work with this.


Thursday night, 27 September 2007, PM

Emmett: He sips the boozy milkshake as he waits for Sami to answer.

GM: “You’re cute when you’re on your back,” she deadpans. “But still cute enough when you’re talking.”

Emmett: He snorts, genuinely amused. “Cécilia was right about you. You are fun.” He glances over her. “You know, I was thinking about what you said, her not having any real friends.”

God, he loves Nutella.

“Do you?”

GM: Sami gives a short laugh. It might be either with him or at him.

“That question’s sort of like ‘can I be honest.’ Who actually says ‘no, I want you to tell me comforting lies’?”

Emmett: “Some people find a way to answer it like you just did,” he replies easily. “It’s basically the same.”

They’ve been drinking a while now. Or at least, she has. It was easy enough to pour out the remainder of his flask after she got her taste, but he’s been sipping the water from it steadily enough, and playing up his sloppiness just enough to get her to relax.

Not that she needs much encouragement.

GM: Mostly, it seems like, because she doesn’t take him seriously.

Maybe her guard would be up more around someone else. But Em gets the distinct sense she feels as if she’s already ‘won’ against him. She doesn’t swoon at his compliments and never lets up on the barbs.

“Maybe I’ll e’en let you shcrew me conscious someday,” she laughs at one point, sounding more than a little tipsy.

Emmett: It could be demoralizing. Instead it’s more than a little pathetic.

He seizes on that. Once you see somebody else as less, you never have to feel scared of them again.

Humans learned that trick a long, long time ago.

“Lucky me,” he simply says, then lets out a little belch for effect. He grins wickedly and says, slurring slightly at opportune times that don’t make him incomprehensible, “I’ll be your friend, though. Tell me the truth about Cécilia. How you feel uh, about her.”

GM: Sami makes fun of Cécilia, too, when Em brings her up, as well as his interest in and pursuit of “Little Miss Perfect.” Little Miss Perfect, who eventually throws away all her boyfriends so she can get back to some “wholesome family incest” with her sisters—yes, even the one who’s still in preschool. “The age is probably even more of a turn-on to her, since being an innocent little angel’s already her thing.”

It’s evident enough that Sami wants what Cécilia has. Her place at the top of the school.

Emmett: It’s gratifying to be told what he thinks he already knows.

It also makes his momentum unstoppable. Like a snowball collecting filthy flakes, events keep going to plan.

“You’d be surprised. She’s not so innocent.” He pauses, slightly. “I saw some parts of her I can’t unsee. You think if I left her for you it’d make a splash at school?”

GM: Sami laughs again. It’s a sound tinged with hardness, and that same sense it’s still partly at him.
“Yeah. I bet it would make a splash.”

Emmett: “Try a little harder to impress me, then, it’s not like I’m gonna do it for me.”

GM: Sami laughs again, spills her drink over his shirt, then laughs harder at that.

“Don’t need to, pretty boy, you’ve already cheated on her.”

Emmett: “Yeah. But I have to say, I can see why you hate her so much. You don’t really have the same…grace she does. But I guess you’ll be able to take her on alone. It’s not like anybody’s tried before you.”

GM: “Yeah. But I have to say, I can see why she’s bored of you too. You don’t really have the same… grace her usual boyfriends do. Or money. Her boyfriends usually have that, too.”

Emmett: He shakes her head at her, laughing. “If you had been a little more patient, you might have gotten everything you wanted and more. But I’m curious where you’re going to take it. Girls like you, they want what she has but they don’t understand how her mind works. How people work. It isn’t enough to fuck somebody’s boyfriend for a part. You have to think ahead.”

He talks with his hands, an extra level of confidence in his words that’s easy to play off as intoxicated vigor rather than theatric glee. “That’s the game Cécilia plays. I’ve seen inside it. What do you want—to be a story, or to tell one?”

GM: Sami gives another one of those hard, more than a little tipsy-sounding laughs. But there’s no ambiguity where her laughter is directed this time.

“Wow. You’re none too bright. Why would I sit through a lay as boring as yours—yeah, sit through—if thash’ all I wanted? Shtar’ a rumor? Could do that… withou’ fucking you. You know you can do that?” Sami widens her eyes in sarcastic shock. “Tell people things that aren’t really true, didn’t really happen? Hold still, I’m sure that must be a shock. In fact, you can even do it if you pinky swear and cross your heart, hope to die. Gosh, isn’t every new day educational?”

Sami makes a kissy face as if she’s explaining the idea to one of Cécilia’s kid sisters.

“You think I care about your shtupi’ little movie? I took pictures. Lots of pictures. None with my face, but los’ with yours. They’ll be making the rounds soon. Who is that girl he was cheating on. Is it… heh. And Cécilia… heh. Heh. Heh.”

Sami smirks at him and starts to stand up.

“You don’t ha’ anything I need, little boy. I’ve sheen all there is to see about you, and I’m…” she hiccups, “not impressed.”

Emmett: The only way to win is to force her to blink first. He only raises an eyebrow at her ‘revelation.’ Like he didn’t already have a sense exactly of who she is, what she wants, how she feels. When she stands, he just smirks. “Yeah, that’s clever. It’s fine, even. Except Cécilia already knows. And get this, honeybun: she forgives me. It’s why she’s already trying to get you expelled.”

She thinks she can break him. That she can seize one last iota of satisfaction from her. But he won’t shake.

Because he knows that what he’s going to do to her will extinguish the shame of her violation of him. That the only thing to do in this world to stop being pushed is to push harder.

He’s not losing tonight. She is.

GM: Surprise, uncertainty, and even incredulity flash behind Sami’s eyes for a moment, but then she sneers.

“She can’ get me espelled, idiot. Thas’ not how it works. B’lieve me, I know wha’ that takes. The school isn’t gonna forgive her, even if she’s a big enough… twat to.”

Sami scowls. “This date blows. Pay b’fore I reach your car, an’ maybe I’ll let you kiss me g’night.”

She shoulders her purse and walks out.

Emmett: “Oh, you’ve hurt her,” Em agrees happily. “But because she’s got money, her mother’s who she is, and in Cécilia’s own words, ’that’s just how the world works,’ she’s still going to ruin your life. Say hi to mommy and daddy when you have to explain why you got your ass booted out of the best school they could bribe for their little princess bitch. Or.”

He slurps happily from his shake.

“I can help you fuck her up worse. Like when I tell you I’m not even who she thinks I am. I’ve been lying to her this whole time.”

GM: Sami doesn’t slow her stride. Perhaps he does have that long to pay before the opportunity to get even with his rapist struts past.

At least she didn’t come in her own car. Why would she pay for something like gas?

Emmett: He walks with her after paying (eying the bill only a moment too long), not too quickly, still cool as ice. He opens the door for her, a perfect gentleman.

“My name’s Emmett. I talked Lee into groping her sister and then seduced her into going out with me.” He drives away from the restaurant, eyes carefully on the road.

He turns on the radio. Sublime’s playing.



GM: Sami laughs.

“And I thought she was so much better at the game. What an airhead.”

Emmett: Well, in some ways," he admits. “She’s very conscious of what she can do to others. Like asking mommy to give me a shot at film school, which suddenly sounded a lot better than just trying to fuck her and run. Or ensuring that your life at McGehee is over.”

He drives safely despite being drunk. That’s the beauty of having somewhere to be.

The destination isn’t far.

“So I’ve stuck with that, but now I’m on the outs with her…and she’s still in bed with the movie. So I’m thinking I need to think bigger than Cécilia. I need to think, branding. I need to think, what’s the story people are going to remember?”

He isn’t slurring anymore.

“I think, I drop a bomb like this at the screening, in front of the most important people of the city… invite some reporters, start a scandal… yeah, I’m liking the look of my future, Sami. It’s yours I’m worried about.”

GM: “That’s swee’ of you,” Sami says with that same humorless laugh. Her eyes start to focus a bit more at his words though. “On the outs, huh? An’ here I thought she’d forgiven you.”

Emmett: “Oh, of course, but only for that. No, we’re still quite broken up, a detail she’ll be sure to get out right quick now. It’s you she’s angry at, Sami. And have you ever seen our girl angry?” He laughs harshly.

There’s not a question of it in his.

He is laughing at her.

There’s that sidewalk.

GM: Sami’s eyes narrow.

“So what, d’you get off to girls shooting you down? Guess tonight’s gonna see one crusty sock in your bedroom, a’ this rate.”

Emmett: He’s still laughing as he parks. It might be the most beautiful noise he’s ever heard, his own laughter. “I don’t want to fuck you,” he chuckles. “But then, you seemed to have trouble understanding that in the first place. We’re here to do some test shooting. You agreed to be an actress, remember?”

He texts Jermaine to come out and wave them. He chills out, grinning at her as he gets out of the car and takes a cigarette from his pack. He offers her one, too.

GM: Yet a cheap motel wasn’t what Em’s film buddies had in mind for the shoot location. The renovated Chartres Street townhouse Em parks in front of is a luxurious, three-story affair with the greenery-dripping galleries so endemic to the French Quarter. An old iron bell is located next to a modern-looking set of surveillance cameras and speaker-box mounted by the wrought-iron fence and gate for those seeking admittance to buzz themselves in.

Sami plucks away the offered cigarette with the same casualness she’s taken everything (and more) that Em offered to pay for. She raises an eyebrow at where he’s parked.

“Yours, huh?”

Emmett: “For tonight, it’s both of ours.” He buzzes the buzzer and waits.

The sweet smell of slow death fills his nostrils. He plays absentmindedly with the lighter, turning their faces orange and warm while they wait for the gate to open.

GM: “Yeah, who?” grunts a man’s crackling voice from the speaker.

It’s a far cry from the smoothly professional or at least impersonal tones one might expect to be greeted by.

Emmett: “Em. We’re here.”

GM: “Well why the fuck didn’t you say so?”

The gate opens.

Emmett: He rolls his eyes and in they go.

GM: Inside the townhouse, a bronze-gilt gate set in a domed archway leads into a courtyard surfaced with soft red brick. Inside, manifold flowerbeds bloom with yellow and white roses, irises, hibiscus, and Hong Kong orchids. Banana and umbrella trees and windmill palms grow along the walls, while the walk-around balconies drip with bougainvillea and passion vine. A French marble pool glints under the moon like a breathing, azure mirror. Nearby, a hammock and an antique gramophone rest in the trees’ shade. Floor-to-ceiling windows and glass-paned French doors leave little doubt to the opulent decor within the manse proper.

Even Sami looks appreciative in the moment before their hosts approach.

Emmett: He takes it all in stride.

Someday, a part of him idly notes, this will belong to him.

But tonight, it already does.

GM: The first is a young man who walks with a similar but perhaps more justified air of ownership. He’s got tan skin, thick black hair, bushy brows, and handsome features that are only somewhat offset by his large lips and nose. He’s dressed in an open-breasted maroon leisure suit over a wifebeater, giving him a look of casualness overlaid with sloppiness, that his handsome (enough) features are just enough to hold together. The look would be atrocious on an overweight and middle-aged man, who Em can easily see wearing similar clothes, but on him it’s passable. By just enough. Gold doesn’t glint so much as glare from a watch and several rings.

Emmett: Em tosses his own hands, fingers distinctly bare, into a friendly greeting. “This is Sami. She isn’t very impressed with me.” He frowns and shakes his head in mock sadness. “You can’t please everybody, can you?”

GM: “Nah, but they can please you,” leers the man.

The next man resembles a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a seemingly permanent smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. He smells of deodorant, hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze that gives his tan skin an almost iridescent sheen. His outfit consists of a ballooning silk leisure shirt, long brown leather jacket, bell-bottom dress slacks, and crocodile wingtips.

Cash_Money.jpg
Emmett: The smell makes him nauseous for a moment.

Just a moment, though. He’s all smiles.

If I ever start dressing like this guy I hope I end up in a morgue.

For his part, Em is dressed less ostentatiously. A white shirt with wooden buttons, untucked from a brass-buckled belt and a nice-looking bolo tie (thanks, dead grandma Lise), more for the discordant note of personality it adds to the ensemble than anything else. A blazer that makes his shoulders look sharper, his posture straighter, offsets the dark stone at the nape of his neck.

GM: The third man is shorter and thinner, with dreadlocks he wears in a half-ponytail, wide eyebrows, and a partial mustache and goatee. His face is set in a crooked ‘oh really?’ smirk. He mostly eschews the second man’s ostentatious dress in favor of simple t-shirt and cargo pants. He looks like he’s put most of his money in his flashy high-top shoes, the gold dollar sign on a chain around his neck, and several glinting rings. He smells of strong, musky cologne.

Pic.jpg
The one face Em recognizes is Jermaine’s. Ron’s son resembles a distilled, focused version of his father, with decades of excess trimmed away. What’s left is lean and hungry. His hair is closely shorn instead of balding, and he’s tall, fit, and thin-waisted. He doesn’t smile either, and there’s a focus to his stare that his old man lacks. He wears a plain white t-shirt and pair of jeans.

Jermaine.jpg
Emmett: He reaches out and clasps his cousin’s arm in that half-handshake, half-hug teenagers think makes them look masculine. “Long time no see, J.”

He’d been hoping seeing Jermaine’s face would make this seem more real. It doesn’t.

GM: The last figure isn’t like the others.

She’s a woman, first of all. She’s gorgeous. Em’s uncle might describe her as having a “body built for bedrooms.” She has tanned skin, an hourglass figure with full breasts, and wavy black hair that falls to the small of her back. She wears a half-sleeved black dress that’s tighter at the waist and falls down to mid-calf. She’s lounging on a fold-out chair by the pool, talking with the second man. Em can’t make out her face.

Woman.jpg
Groveling by her sandal-heeled feet is a prone figure in a leather hood. He’s dressed completely in black leather. His hands are bound in fingerless leather mittens shackled behind his back. The crotch and rear of his are apparel are cut away, leaving his buttocks and genitalia mockingly exposed. His hairless penis is trapped in a spike-lined steel chastity cage. The sharp bits of metal look as if they’ll drive into his shaft if he ever gets hard. A blindfold covers his eyes and a collar hooked to a leash is secured around his neck.

He has no lips. Or teeth. There’s just leather, then gums, and nothing in between.

Emmett: He just takes it in with a glance. Weird, but not nose-under-the-bed-weird.

He’s fine.

Just… fine.

“Look at that,” he says to Sami, pointing to the unfortunate fucker. “That’s what really fucking somebody looks like.”

He’s quite interested to see what she’s making of this.

GM: Jermaine greets Em with a simple fist bump. There’s lots of smiles at this gathering, but little warmth. Affection feels out of place.

“Dino. Cash Money. Showerz,” he says, introducing each of the other men in turn.

The woman doesn’t look at them. None of them besides Cash Money look at her.

“This is Em. My cuz.”

“Movie director, huh?” Dino grins.

Sami’s eyes have gone all-too sober, all-too fast. None of the men ask who she is. None of them look at her.

Not in the same way they do Em, anyway.

Emmett: A sight which makes him feel suddenly, drunkenly joyful. A black, ruinous joy in awe of its own existence.

“Pleasure’s all mine,” he says, smiling his own cold smile. “I hope you don’t mind if I watch. Maybe make a few suggestions. She’s my actress, after all.”

Think sharks. Think Godfather.

“This is Sami. Didn’t I say she was pretty?”

He smiles at her, and doesn’t hide the wild, cruel mirth in his eyes. He wants her to see it. To see him, and who he is, and what he’s capable of.

“Say hi, Sami.”

GM: There’s a second. Just a second, where Em can see what she is. What she really is, here.

Scared.

“Hi, guys,” Sami says, smiling widely as she looks the men over. “Wow… Em said he was connected, but I didn’t think he meant to bigshots like you.”

Dino smirks, then hefts one of Sami’s breasts in his hands like he’s examining a piece of merchandise.

“Not bad. Seen better racks, though.”

“Yeah, three stars,” smirks Showerz.

“Guys say I make up for it by being a horny slut with no shame at all,” Sami smirks, then runs his hand along her other breast. “And you gotta admit, they’re pretty perky.”

Dino and Showerz laugh.

Emmett: Em smiles wider. “No shame at all, I can vouch for. Horny slut, I don’t need to, because everybody else can. Don’t be scared to push her around. She’s very sassy.”

He punctuates the sentence by swatting her ass. There’s no intimacy, no affection or lust in that motion.

Just possession.

“So, walk me through your setup. What were you boys thinking? I’m curious. Academically.”

It’s true. He hasn’t gotten the chance to see a real shoot yet.

GM: Sami knows much better than to glare or protest right now.

“I like to improvise,” Dino declares. “Art and shit that way. It gets, like…” he snaps his fingers as if willing the words to come.

“Passionate,” Sami fills in. “It’s raw. Real. Authentic.”

“Yeah,” Dino remarks, as self-contently as if he’d articulated the thought himself.

He looks her over again, then grins widely.

“I can’t wait to stick my dick in you.”

Sami beams.

Jermaine just watches without comment.

“Studio’s this way, lovebirds,” Showerz grins, pointing the way.

“Oh, I better look my best, first,” Sami smiles. “You gentlemen got a restroom I can clean up in?”

Dino points towards the manse’s front doors. “Second door on the right. Be fast.”

“Always,” she replies with another smile, setting off.

Emmett: He isn’t having it.

“She stays,” he says, smiling, looking at Jermaine to make sure he’s understood. “I like her fine the way she is, don’t you?”

GM: “I kinda had a lot to drink too,” Sami adds, rubbing her stomach with a slightly queasy look that’s too real to be acting. “Guys all say I overdo things,” she then laughs. “Better if I throw up into the toilet than over someone’s dick.”

Dino’s aroused look seems to die a little.

Emmett: Em just laughs. “She’s a silly one. Hold on a second.” He turns to her like he’s a bout to say something, and then just slaps her.

Hard. Harder than he’s ever hit anybody.

“Take her phone, J. Girls and their toys, right?”

Ron would be proud.

GM: Sami’s head snaps to the side as she staggers a step backwards, seemingly as much from surprise as pain. Laughter sounds from the male guests.

Sami doesn’t hit back as she raises a hand to her reddening cheek. She just stares at Em with hate in her eyes.

Emmett: He wags a finger at her chidingly. “If you throw up, they’ll just take it out of your cut,” he says. “I’m looking out for you.”

GM: “Yeah, don’t tell me you’re gonna throw up on my dick,” Dino says flatly.

“Welcome to throw up on mine…” says Showerz with a kissy face.

Jermaine doesn’t say anything. He just stares, but a smirk cracks his still face.

The group has other onlookers, as well.

Emmett: He gestures with his head to Jermaine. “Give the nice man your phone, before he loses patience and takes it. He hits much harder than I do.”

GM: Cash Money wears a grin so wide, sleazy, and dirty that Em could build a strip club inside of it. If it didn’t just sink into the mud.

The gimp tugs against his leash, bobs his head, and gives a gurgled, literally toothless, “Hthee hthee!”

The woman doesn’t laugh. But Em can make out her face now. Her caramel-skinned features are beautiful but cruel. There’s no hard lines or crags to them, no look of severity or outward hate. They’re soft and delicate, with faint lines that seem to come from smiling often.

It’s the aroused look in her slow-simmering, poison-green eyes that says everything. That says, ‘rose laced with anthrax.’

She still doesn’t say anything, herself. She just looks at Em and slowly licks her lips.

Sami slowly digs into her purse and holds out a cellphone for Jermaine.

Emmett: He stares back, head slightly tilted, eyes full of something wretched and spiteful and indifferent to anything but watching the girl who made him this way suffer for it.

To Sami, he says, without a trace of irony, “Good girl.”

GM: She flinches again as Jermaine impatiently swats the phone out of her hands. The device hits the grass with a tiny thump.

“I wouldn’t waste time with no phone, if I was her and wanted to bolt.”

Emmett: He picks it up, clicking his tongue.

“Yeah? What’d you do?”

GM: “I’d climb out a window. Who the hell’s she gonna call that can get here faster? Action Bill and the Danger Squad?”

Dino and Showerz both laugh.

Emmett: He snaps his fingers. “Good point. But you’re you, and she’s her. Even if she could run, and she can’t, because she’s shitfaced and we have a car and know the area, what’s she gonna do?” He looks Sami in the eyes as he talks. “Stumble around the Quarter drunker than a whore on Fat Tuesday? Get herself raped or killed by some bastards less patient, more discerning than us? With her luck, probably. At least with us, she knows she’s among friends. Doesn’t she.”

He takes out his pack, and offers to the other men. Sami isn’t asked.

“Let’s get this show on the road. Her job’s the easy part.”

He pockets her phone. It’ll make for some interesting reading during the shoot.

GM: “I’d take those odds, I was her,” Jermaine says as he plucks out a cig. “Quarter’s crowded. Easy to lose us with a head start. I bet a girl like her does know the area, too. I’d duck into the nearest bar or restaurant, someplace you can’t just grab someone without a giant scene, and call a friend to pick me up. Or flag a cab.”

The look on Dino’s face has turned very dark by the time he takes a cig.

He doesn’t say anything. Or hit her.

Yet.

“That little minx,” Showerz laughs as he plucks out a cig for himself.

Jermaine holds out his in front of Sami. “Light.”

Sami pulls out a lighter from her purse and lights the cig.

She doesn’t say anything.

Emmett: Minx, what are you gonna twirl your mustache and make her eat your monocle next?

He thinks about a moment, then he just says it out loud. “Call her a slut instead. It’s more honest.”

GM: Showerz chortles.

“That little slut!”

Emmett: It’s distinctly possible I’m just a bad person at this point. But you’re only young once.

GM: Dino just stares at her darkly, like she’s done something to personally cross him. His glare only seems to get angrier as she lights his cig, then the other mens’.

Emmett: Em idly flips open her phone. Email browser, text messages, a few cute little apps. His parents would never get him one this nice.

Whatever Dino does, he’ll live. He starts reading her texts.

GM: There’s ones from a lot of people Em doesn’t know, as well as Cécilia.

She talks about being alarmed by Em wanting to follow her to France. Sami not only agrees but exaggerates all of her “friend’s” worst fears and anxieties, calling Em a stalker, saying she’s heard about him getting “obsessed” with other girls before. She advises cutting off further contact.

There’s also pictures.

Em knows what they are before he even loads them up.

She’s shared them already with a couple girls. All of them have a good laugh.

Emmett: He clicks his tongue at her.

“I was going to be nice, too. But now you’ve made things harder.”

He glances at Dino. “Dino, how do you teach a woman respect?”

GM: “You hit the bitch,” Dino answers flatly.

“Oh, whas’ on there?” grins Showerz.

Emmett: He waves a hand. “Nothing as fun as what we’re about to do to her. What do you think, Showerz? How do you treat a bitch who disrespects you? Who lies and cheats behind your back?”

GM: “Hit her too, I guess,” the young man shrugs, then grins again. “Never had a woman who ever wanted to cheat on me though.”

“That fucking good, are you?” glowers Dino.

“S’what they tell me,” Showerz smirks.

Emmett: “Of course he is, look at this stud. What about you, Cash Money? What do you do? Cajuns, we know how to get even.”

GM: Cash Money doesn’t even turn to look at Em. He’s still engaged in conversation with the nameless, poison-eyed woman by the pool.

Emmett: He waves it off, it’s all performance anyway. “Jermaine?”

GM: The gimp tilts his hooded head, then sharply tugs downwards against his leash in a motion reminiscent of being hanged. Muffled giggles sound from the black leather.

Emmett: He takes a long drag, and makes sure the ember at the end of the cigarette burns brightly.

Orange is a beautiful color. He can’t ever get sick of it.

He doesn’t know what to make of the gimp. But it’s not any of his fucking business, is it?

GM: “Same thing I’d do to a man,” says Jermaine. “I don’t discriminate. Shoot her. Or him.”

Emmett: He nods. “What do you think of that, Sami?”

GM: “Men cheat on you, h…” Showerz starts to grin at Jermaine.

Em’s cousin just stares at him, and the grin dies.

Emmett: “You’re going to need to be better about answering questions if you don’t want me to get mad,” he chides her.

He stares into those hate-filled eyes, and shows her only indifferent, mirthful expectation.

GM: The hate is still there, without doubt. But it’s been swallowed. What’s there looks like a melange of swallowed hate, stifled panic, and simple reservation. Sitting in the passenger seat and watching scenery roll by. Who knows where to.

“I guess people do what they’ll do,” she answers noncommittally.

Emmett: “That’s a good answer,” he agrees. “Really safe, really neutral. But it’s not what I’d like to hear, exactly. I’m nicer than Jermaine. But not by much.”

He extends a palm. “Give me your hand, Sam. I like that better than Sami. Stupid, little girl name, Sami.”

GM: “Dunno, Sam sounds like a boy name to me,” says Showerz.

Emmett: “Sure. She’s a Sami tonight.”

GM: “Why bother with names?” Jermaine replies flatly. He doesn’t smile, but Showerz grins again and Dino gives a little half-snort.

Sami, Sam, or Sami, doesn’t say anything as she extends a hand.

Emmett: “Good.” He holds it gently, traces her fingers in his. “Look at those nails. You can tell you take care of them, love them, even. That’s something I actually like about women. Men don’t take care of their hands at all.”

His mouth tastes like nicotine and the faintest hint of Nutella. He doesn’t know why he’s being so cruel.

But then again, he guesses he does.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be over quickly enough.” He looks her dead in the eyes. “But if you scream, I’ll do it again.”

With his other hand, he removes what’s left of his cig.

The ember smolders like a jack-a-lantern’s eyes as he presses it neatly into her palm.

GM: Sami tries to pull away as soon as she sees those ominously glowing embers coming. Dino grabs her fingers hard enough to make her wince, and yanks them down, holding her palm splayed out for Em.

There’s a low sizzling hiss as burning orange-red meets sweating, quivering pink.

Sami manages to keeps her teeth clenched, for a second, as her eyes reflexively clamp.

Then she screams.

Emmett: The sound, the sight, the scream, these are all the things he expected. The scene unfolds much like he imagined it would in his director’s eye, the terrible inspiration a woman who isn’t a woman has forced him to hone.

But the movies don’t smell.

GM: “Fuck! We shoulda filmed that!” exclaims Showerz.

Emmett: He shakes his head sadly. “Come on, Sami. You’re tough. You can do this.”

He holds out his hand for another cigarette.

GM: “She screamed,” Jermaine deadpans. “Means take two.”

“Fuck, hold on, man,” says Showerz. “Lemme get the camera…”

Dino finally offers a hard smile.

The rest of their audience is watching, too.

Cash Money is just grinning even wider. That strip club got an extra floor added.

The gimp cackles toothlessly, lunges forward against his leash, and gives a hack as it pulls him up short. Em can see red dripping from the metal driving into his now-erect member. He whines softly and pulls against the leash some more.

The poison-eyed woman just watches. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t move.

But finally, she smiles a dead and empty smile.

Emmett: “See, now you’ve got me needing to keep my word, and that means I’ve got to do it again, or boy, would my face be red,” he says in that same chiding tone. Some part of him feels sick, but the rest of him steps on it until it feels cold instead.

“I really hate being embarrassed, Sami. You know how much? This much.”

It’s funny, the places his mind goes. He holds her hand as he puts out the second cigarette in the same, tender spot.

He remembers fishing with his dad. Remembers the one thing that the yellow-toothed professor would not abide from him, even then. A fish was to be killed immediately, or thrown back if the child couldn’t stomach the redbone tradition his father loved so.

But when Em dangled a carp on a hook, wounded and cut from the way it had chewed at the bait, when he watched it flick and try with all of its living will to swim away, to escape, to be free—only to cut itself deeper, and deeper, denied the quiet dignity of death or joyous current of release; then he was hypnotized, until Philemon Delacroix started yelling and for the first and only time in his life Emmett thought his father might be about to hit him.

And despite the years of arguments and alienation, the distance of an already unbridgable moral gulf, it is his father’s cries he hears in Sami’s, the carp’s vain flopping as it suffered for no reason at all, because Emmett knows one thing deep in the bones of a body he’s done nothing but sin in.

It is a terrible thing to be cruel.

He knows this, appreciates it, wonders idly how he would feel about this in a Tarantino movie.

And then he keeps doing it.

Because she raped me, the pathetic part of him that wants to make it alright squeals. She did it first! She has it coming!

Maybe. But he probably had it coming before her, and he sure as hell has worse coming now.

No. He does it because he wants to. Because it feels gratifying and sexy and he feels powerful for the first time in more than a month when he does it.

The second cigarette sizzles to ash.

GM: There’s exclamations in the distance. Showerz, shouting something about “angles, man! Fuck!” as he jogs up to the scene, a hand-mounted video camera held up.

Sami isn’t able to keep her teeth clenched this time.

She just screams.

It’s an uneven, half-mangled sound that starts off high, chokes midway through, and then gets higher again. It squeezes tears out of the corners of her eyes.

She can’t stop from struggling this time, either. Perhaps by reflex. Perhaps by conscious intent. She jerks against Dino’s grip and starts hitting, slapping, flailing with her free hand against his arm.

Dino’s fist smashes into her face. Hard. Red sprays over his knuckles with a wet crack as Sami staggers backwards. Dino hits her again, driving his fist into her gut. Sami goes down in a heap with another half-strangled cry.

Emmett: “We need her to be able to explain the injuries,” Em notes, more observationally than critically. “Nice arm, though.”

“Now.” He walks over to her, takes a knee.

GM: Jermaine silently shakes his head.

Dino’s face is red with fury as he delivers a sweeping kick into her stomach. Hard.

Sami gives another cry and holds up her hands, as if to ward off the blows. Dino kicks her again. She gives a chocked little sound.

“Fucking whore! LIE to me! ME! LIE TO ME!? ME?! FUCKINGLIE—TO—ME?!

Emmett: He glances at Jermaine, raises an eyebrow.

As long as she can walk, he supposes.

GM: There’s more cracks and thumps as his wingtip-shoed feet drive into her stomach, her thighs, her crotch, her breasts, again and again. There’s nothing fair about it. Nothing pretty. Just one person stomping the shit out of another one who just curls up, cries, and suffers.

Dino grabs Sami’s hair and yanks up her head, pulling back a still-bloodied fist.

Emmett: “Hey, hey, Dino.”

GM: “N… not my face!” Sami’s voice is shrill with panic. “Don’t hurt my face!”

Emmett: Em holds up a hand. “I have an idea.”

GM: Dino punches Sami again in her already swelling black eye. There’s another crack. More blood. Another choked cry.

Emmett: “Oookay, nevermind.”

GM: Dino drops her hair for a second to undo his belt and unzip his fly, then shoves his cock into Sami’s mouth. The one-eyed woman makes a gagging sound and tries to shove him away. He hits her again, in the nose, and red sprays all over his balls and and crotch hair.

“Yeah, use that face!” Showerz whoots, leaning in with the camera for a close-up.

“Fuck that ho’s face, D!”

Emmett: He tuts. None of the ceremony he was going for.

But you make do with what you have.

He starts taking pictures with his phones. Sami’s, and his own.

He makes sure she can see.

“Can we get her out of those clothes? Don’t want to leave her with too much… I think the word she used was ‘mystery.’”

GM: Dino grabs the back of Sami’s head with both hands as he aggressively thrusts back and forth. Sami makes choked, half-gagging sounds. Maybe there’d be hate in her eyes, normally, at the snapping pictures, but right now they barely flick away from what’s in front of her. Jermaine grabs her hands and holds them behind her back.

“G’wan, Em! Unwrap her!” Showerz hoots, slow-panning the camera across the pair.

Emmett: “Ah, shucks, boys. You know I’m camera shy. Keep it on her. She’s the star. My face stays out.”

Em obliges them slowly, and deliberately. Almost gently, except the pretense of consent in his steady, snapping motions probably make the experience worse for her. Her dress first, then all the various accessories and silly little flourishes like her leggings, and then sliding her underwear off like he’s opening a present. Not ripping, not tearing. He goes slowly, and she still can’t stop him.

That would make it worse for him, he expects.

Dino and Showerz are animals. He doubts they even register the brutality, the violation, for what it is.

Him and his cousin are monsters.

He makes sure he gets her face in his own little photoshoot.

GM: Sami isn’t wearing anything besides the dress and the underwear beneath that. September in New Orleans is much too hot for leggings as well, after all. Showerz hoots when he sees how her matching bra and panties are black.

“Woo! Sexy!”

The gimp whines with pain as blood leaks from his erect member. The woman idly runs a finger along it and wipes the blood across his blindfold, but she doesn’t take her eyes off the scene.

Cash Money, meanwhile, walks up to Jermaine and removes a pair of handcuffs from his ballooning coat’s pockets.

“Allow me,” he leers.

Jermaine shrugs and lets go of Sami’s hands. Cash Money fastens the cuffs around them with a metallic clink.

“You into that kinky shit?” Showerz chortles.

“Just a cop,” Cash Money smiles. The expression spreads across his face like a cumstain across underwear.

“Hope you won’t cite us, officer!” Showerz laughs, still pacing around Em and Sami with the camera.

Cash Money just smiles that content-as-a-cumstain smile, then unbuckles his pants and mounts Sami from the rear.

Emmett: Click, click.

He has the feeling he might not agree with Showerz on much, but angles really are everything.

As the shoot progresses, in addition to suggesting various positions and expressions for her to say (“Welcome to McGehee,” “Fuck me like my uncle did,” “thank you” after Dino makes her swallow his prehistoric load,) encouraging her to say hi to her parents, her friends, even that vapid dancing teacher of hers, he goes deeper through her texts and emails. Her pictures, too. He forwards and copies the most interesting items to himself, but is particularly fascinated by her relationship with Cécilia, her closest friends at the school other than her, and of course, mommy and daddy Watts.

Sometimes he asks her questions about them. Every one she doesn’t answer is ten minutes added to the shoot. He’s got time, he tells her.

GM: The shoot takes its sweet time.

Dino shoves both his balls into Sami’s mouth as he thrusts into her throat, deeper and deeper. Sometimes he pulls out to give her a breather, snot and spittle all over his dick, but it’s only for a second before he grabs her hair and thrusts his cock and balls back in. Em could swear her neck is bulging. When she looks like she’s about to throw up, Jermaine presses a gun to her head and says she’s “dead if you toss your cookies.”

She doesn’t.

Emmett: “Man, we should have seen if that made a difference with the cigs. Still disappointed in you, Sam. Thought you were made of harder stuff.”

It’s so, so easy to be like this once he gets started. Especially surrounded by these pigs.

But then he sees Sami’s face as his vision goes dark.

He takes another picture of her face, ugly and miserable and covered in blood and cum. He makes it her phone’s background.

GM: Cash Money expresses his disappointment when she doesn’t struggle against the cuffs. He shares a story about some girls some “buddies of mine” put electric dog collars on. Ones that give a shock when you push a button. The ‘challenge’ was seeing how many shocks they could take before they tried to pull the collars off. Then they got cuffed.

“They wiggle their hands, like flippers,” Cash Money leers as he thrusts into Sami’s buttocks. He talks about how they could reach the collars, enough to touch, but couldn’t pull them off. They still tried though, after shock after shock after shock.

He’s disappointed Sami isn’t struggling here. He liked those “little flipper hands.”

Emmett: “You heard him, Sami. Struggle.”

Can’t look weak.

It’s her eyes, he’s interested in.

The bruises and burns are all shortcuts to her eyes.

He wants to see her break.

GM: Dino blows his load with a heaving pant and tells Sami to swallow or he’ll blow out her brains. Once he pulls out, Cash Money shoves her face- and chest-down against the grass. He lays his chest close over her back as he takes her doggy-style so that he can lick her ears and neck, and squeeze her breasts in his hands. He clamps a hand and mouth over her nose several times, laughing at her struggles to breathe.

“Shoulda done that when she was suckin’ you off, man!” Showerz complains.

“She’ll suck me off too,” Cash Money remarks casually. He pulls out and flips her over, than holds her down with Dino so that Jermaine can enter between her legs.

Next to Cash Money, Em’s cousin is down to business. His thrusts after he fills her are hard and fast. He doesn’t talk as Showerz cheers, Cash Money smiles, and Dino cracks a viciously satisfied grin. Jermaine climaxes and pulls out, looks at Sami for a moment, and then kicks her in the crotch.

Showerz is next as the others hold her down. He whoops and cheers, licks her tits, and “makes a little music!” smacking her tits back and forth like a pair of drums. He even stops penetrating her when he wants to really go at it. Dino handles the camera for a few moments, then seems to lose interest and passes it off to Em.

Emmett: It’s a bit much by now, but it still feels like appropriate compensation for his suffering.

GM: Showerz even starts to pull down his pants from his ass, but Jermaine grabs him and growls, “I am not smelling your shit.” Showerz looks disappointed and mutters, “Whatever.”

Em gets his turn, too, after Showerz pulls out. Jermaine and Dino both hold her down.

Emmett: He waves them aside. “Let her go. She knows that if she gets up, we’ll beat her ass worse than all that put together.”

He nudges her chin with the toe of his sneaker. “Doesn’t she.”

GM: “What—right here? You a fag?” Showerz laughs. “Too good for our seconds?”

“Fifths,” Cash Money smirks.

Jermaine crosses his arms.

Dino looks at Em. His handsome face is getting ugly again.

Sami hasn’t answered any of Em’s requested “or ten more minutes” questions. She hasn’t responded to the snapped pictures, or any of the requested things to say. Em wonders if she even heard him. There’s not even hate in her gaze anymore. Her eyes blankly stare into a distant and faraway place.

Emmett: “Maybe I am. Or maybe I got a bigger imagination than y’all. I didn’t say the show was over. Watch and learn, boys. There’s fucking a girl, and then there’s fucking her. Who bought her here, huh? Give a man his privileges.”

He leans close to her. “Sami. Look at me. Look at me, you stupid little slut. There’s one thing I’ll tell you right now, and I’ll tell you once, because I see you and the only thing left I want to fuck is your life. I hate being ignored, and if you ignore me now—”

He lights a cigarette.

“This goes in between your eyes. Like a new freckle, only less cute, more Saw. The black eyes, the blood, that’ll all fade or wash. Not this. You don’t get to ignore me. Ever. Now look at me and say you understand, or I’m going to stop being so fucking understanding.”

GM: Sami’s eyes look past Em. It’s like the look his parents lecture him for getting. Spacing out. “Looking but not listening,” as his dad called it. He usually got privileges revoked after that.

He could hear them, though. He wonders for a moment if Sami even can.

There’s finally a numb nod.

Emmett: “Say. It.” He grabs her by the chin. The embers grow close to the space between her eyes.

GM: Her mouth opens. There’s a low, dry, rasping little sound.

Emmett: “This never ends, Sami. Not really. I’ll drive you home and clean you up, but you never forget this. You never forget what we did to you tonight. And you never, ever forget that I can do it to you again. And again. And again.” He pulls out her ID, not the fake one, but her real card, liberated from her purse during the shoot. He takes a picture of it, then hands it to Jermaine. “You able to memorize that address, J?”

He watches her eyes carefully.

GM: They don’t respond. They don’t register. They just stare blankly past. To some distant place bereft of cognition where she can wait until it’s finally over.

Em has absolutely no doubt, though. She’s never going to forget.

Jermaine doesn’t answer or take the card. There’s a look in his eyes.

“You gonna fuck her now or what?” scoffs Showerz.

Em feels the weight of another gaze on him, too. The woman’s. It leaves a knotting feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he’s swallowed something foul. It’s not aroused like before, though. Or maybe just not. Em can’t say what it is. But it’s wholly on him.

Emmett: He sighs. “If y’all wanna watch me fuck her, I’ll fuck her. But you’re missing the point, all of you. No appreciation for artistry.”

He unzips, and feels the gulf between himself and himself widen, crack, curl. He’s not hard, but it doesn’t take long. He thinks about Cécilia.

“She already knows she belongs to me.”

GM: It’s then that Sami lifts the handgun and aims it straight ahead.

Exclamations of alarm go up from the men. Several of their hands go to their sides. Several look puzzled.

“B… ack…” Sami croaks.

Her voice sounds hell, but her eyes are starting to come back. She swivels the gun between the men, and slowly, gingerly, backs up along the grass.

“B… ack. Away.”

“You fuckin’ BITCH!” Dino roars, his face blackening with rage.

That gets the gun swiveled towards his chest.

Emmett: He just frowns at her as he steps backwards.

What the fuck? Who the fuck?!

Somebody is ruining his revenge.

“Sami. Don’t be fucking stupid. You’re still outgunned here. He’s a cop, for chrissake. This doesn’t end well for you. Put down the gun.”

He glances at Jermaine. Who the fuck left a gun on the ground?

GM: Sami looks at Em.

He sees it, right there. Beyond all lie.

The will to kill.

The hunger to.

“Back,” Sami croaks.

She brushes against the house’s wall and starts to stand up.

“B… ack,” she croaks again.

“Back. Back. Away.”

“Hey! Hey! Bitch, be cool! There’s fuckin’ six, all of us!” Showerz yells.

Cash Money looks like someone’s pissed in his mouth.

Dino’s teeth and fists clench as he breathes and seethes.

Jermaine’s narrowed eyes rest on the open handcuffs.

Emmett: He smiles at her. “What happens when you shoot, Sami? What do they do? How are you getting out of here without losing everything?”

He steps closer. Closer.

He has no fear of death. Just a need to win.

“Give me the gun. Or you’ll fucking die.”

She’s willing to pull the trigger. He knows that.

He also knows she’s got eyes for him, and only him.

Jermaine’ll know what to do.

He hopes.

His dick is still out.

It’s not his best moment.

“Put down the gun,” he says.

Sorry, Dad.

GM: Jermaine shoves Showerz into Sami’s path.

FUCK-!”

There’s an explosion from the gun.

A heavy thump hitting the ground.

The hot smell of gunpowder.

Then.

A body, smashing into Sami.

Emmett: He’s scrambling out of range, laughing manically, eyes wide.

“Hahahaha FUCK!”

Is he real? Is any of this real? Is he dreaming?

GM: A second body.

Another crash.

Black metal, flying through the air.

Hitting the grass with a soft thump.

At Em’s feet.

Then. Everywhere.

Emmett: He scrambles for it.

Come on, TRACK!

GM: Cash Money. Diving for cover. Leaving everyone else to die.

Dino. Dead? Dying? On the ground.

Showerz. Sami. Jermaine. In a heap.

Showerz. Whaling on his cuz.

YOU FUCKING ASS-”

Jermaine’s fist. Smashing into his face.

Sami. Naked and scrambling after the gun.

Her eyes meeting his as he dives for it.

Emmett: TRACK!

GM: Em’s fingers close around the hot metal.

Dino’s out. Cash Money’s bailed. Showerz and his cousin are fighting.

He can be her savior. Rapist turned savior. What a shit excuse for one.

Or make her suffer, this time, without the others getting in the way. Of his art.

Emmett: “Showerz! Off him or I shoot you for real, you shitfucking piece of filth!”

He keeps the gun on Sami.

YOU! Ass against the house, hands up. Do it, NOW!”

GM: Sami raises her hands, new deadness in her eyes.

Showerz and Jermaine keep fighting.

Loud giggles go up from the gimp.

The woman hasn’t moved. Just watched.

Showerz soon looks like he’s losing as Jermaine’s knuckled fist smashes into his face, again and again.

Emmett: He keeps the gun trained on her as he gets closer to the wrestling pair. “Jermaine, get up and take this fucking thing!”

GM: “Aaaaaiigh-! Man, wait, wait-!”

Jermaine gets up and stomp-kicks him in the chest, once, twice, three times, until the yelling man stops moving.

Emmett: “MotherFUCK!”

GM: Jermaine gives Showerz another solid kick in the head, then strides up to Em to take the gun.

Emmett: He looks his cousin in the eyes, still holding the gun on Sami.

“J, I need her alive. You calm?”

Calm. Like a fucking sea.

He keeps an eye on Sami, always.

“She’ll suffer. You got my word.”

GM: Jermaine just holds out his hand.

Emmett: Em looks at him flatly, dropping his voice.

“Alive. And follow my lead, like when we were kids, okay?”

He waits for assent before handing it over.

GM: Jermaine never followed anyone’s lead. That was one of the reasons Ron mostly washed his hands of his son. After all, he probably has others.

“Alive,” is all his cousin says.

Emmett: “Man, it’s my ass if this goes down wrong. Wronger. I already owe you big, but just let me do the talking, and she’ll regret it. I set this shit up, didn’t I? I know how to make a point.”

He hands him the gun. He isn’t going to fight his cousin. But he also clasps his shoulder.

“Come on, for my damn sake. I take the lead.”

GM: Jermaine takes the gun, then shoots Sami.

Emmett: “Fucking christ.”

GM: She hits the grass in a bloody, rawly screaming heap.

Jermaine walks up to her and grabs her hair.

“You little bitch.”

Emmett: “He does have a point,” Em allows. “That was a definitively bitchy move.”

“Anything to say, Sami?”

GM: Jermaine digs his nails into the raw, red, bullet hole, then rips and tears. Her screams are horrific.

Emmett: “That’s a lot. Wow. Okay.”

GM: “You fucking bitch,” he says calmly.

He kicks her in the face. Bloody teeth fly. He kicks her again, smashing in her nose.

Emmett: “Jermaine. Remember Les.”

GM: Jermaine stomps his foot down on her face.

There’s a crunch.

Emmett: “Jesus.”

GM: His other foot comes down on the bullet hole.

There’s another crunch.

They’re not even cries anymore. Just mangled sounds of suffering.

Emmett: He gets between them.

“Jermaine. You made your point. Now stop.”

He gets in his cousin’s face.

“She’s too connected, J. The bruises would have been hard enough, but now she needs a fucking hospital. You wanna be angry, motherfucker, do it in a way that doesn’t make my life harder. Goddammit, this is how you do me? For real? Even after the shit with Les last year? You couldn’t take a deep breath and just let me talk before you whaled on her? I need her, Jermaine. You gonna find me another actress? Gonna get her fixed up? Because now I’ve got a problem, too, and it’s a lot worse than it needs to be.”

GM: “This bitch won’t be your actress,” Jermaine says flatly.

Emmett: “No shit!”

GM: “No way. No how. Not after this.”

Emmett: “Yeah, I kind of reached that fucking conclusion myself.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“Family’d take her to a hospital. Too much to explain. She’s not going back.”

He kneels by Sami and pulls a knife. Tears run down her ruined face.

Emmett: “This,” he tells her, “is all your fault.”

GM: “Ng… ngh… nho…!” she froths.

The words are recognizable. Her face isn’t.

Emmett: “Cuz. I’ll owe you. Don’t do this. Come on. Not this.” He sighs. “Please, J.”

GM: “Too big a loose end, cuz. Girls go missing all the time…”

Jermaine slashes the blade across Sami’s throat.

Emmett: He starts to say something.

And then he just throws up.

GM: The woman rises from her seat. She strides towards the two men and kneels down by Sami. Em sees the glint in her poison-green eyes and feels even sicker. Blood froths in equal parts from Sami’s neck and gasping mouth.

“You poor thing…” the woman croons.

Jermaine eyes her.

Emmett: This isn’t real. This can’t be real.

He stares at the thing he’s made happen.

This is ridiculous. He has that vague, creeping suggestion every child realizes at some point:

Oh fuck, I might be in trouble.

GM: The woman’s poisoned gaze meets Em’s. He can see laughter in it.

“How badly do you want her to live, boy? How much will you… hurt for it?”

Emmett: Emmett has a feeling that maybe, just maybe, he’s killed somebody. That he’s raped and killed a girl for raping him, except who the fuck will believe that story, because the mother of the girl he’s dating is something out of a super bleak horror flick, because he was just trying to get laid and feel like a con artist.

And once you start thinking thoughts like that there’s just nothing fun to look forward to.

In a moment of perfect, simpering idiocy, Emmett Delacroix tells the truth.

“Anything. I’ll do anything to undo this. Please.”

GM: “Cut yourself,” the woman requests.

Em can’t say how much light is even left in Sami’s eyes.

“Deeply, please. Jermaine, give your cousin the knife.”

Jermaine hands it to him without a word.

Emmett: He snatches it.

He’s read about it.

If you want to kill yourself you cut vertical. Some interaction of flesh and artery he doesn’t understand or care to. All he knows is that it works. He doesn’t even remember exactly what made him want to know it. Odd whim.

He doesn’t. He cuts horizontal.

But dammit, he cuts, and he cuts deep.

The movies don’t bleed, either. His teeth clench.

It’s too warm a night to die.

GM: The blood flows. He cuts, deeper, and feels the knife bite through muscle and sinew. It hurts. It hurts a lot. Are those tears in his eyes?

The woman looks at Sami’s still body.

She idly begins tracing a hand around the head in circular pattern.

“That’s a start.”

She dips her fingers in Em’s blood and wetly traces it along that same pattern.

She anoints Sami’s nose and forehead.

Emmett: He watches her mutely, wondering why Jermaine is being so quiet. Not caring. Just wondering.

GM: “Take your clothes off,” the woman says.

Emmett: He blinks.

He starts doing it.

The stupid bolo tie takes a second.

GM: The woman patiently waits, then smiles at Em with her too-red lips.

“Cut off a testicle.”

Em can see it, in those caustic eyes.

She’s getting off to this.

Jermaine blinks strangely.

“His?” he asks thickly.

“Unless you have another,” the woman replies.

Jermaine looks at Dino.

Emmett: I know I deserve this.

He looks at Dino.

But he deserves it more.

GM: “You don’t have much longer,” the woman says idly.

Emmett: He’s already unzipping Dino’s member.

Dontthinkaboutit

Just like cutting walnuts.

GM: The either dead or unconscious man lies some distance away. There’s blood, though Em can’t say where it’s coming from.

Emmett: They won’t try to drag him over. Bodies are heavy. He cuts it over there.

A decision he regrets in short order. He’ll have to carry it back.

Out comes the unfortunately acquainted Dino’s cock. Out comes the weirdly hairy sack.

dontthinkaboutit

He cuts.

His hands shake badly. The cut on his wrist doesn’t help.

When it’s done he brings it to her, trying to pretend it’s a boiled egg yolk in his cupped palm. The texture betrays the illusion.

GM: Maybe Dino is dead. Maybe he’s just unconscious. Do unconscious people respond to pain? Em doesn’t know. But he knows that Dino’s unresponsiveness is the one mercy he gets.

Emmett: As with many great mercies, the proper response is to not think about it.

GM: The street knife is just the right size for the task. Em pulls out the man’s hairy ballsack and… saws. There’s blood. Lots of blood. All over his hands. He has to dig with his hands inside the wet, gory, cut-open sack, and pull out the fleshy orb.

It’s not that big. Maybe a little bigger than one of those round chocolate eggs, the ones small enough to come in Easter special plastic packages.

It smells.

Emmett: Thank god he threw up when he thought he had killed Sami.

Still might have killed Sami.

He holds out his hand to the poison-eyed woman, the woman he’s ignored all night simply because he dares not reckon with the simple implications of her presence. He dares not wonder about who she is, and what she means. If he wonders, he might think of an answer. And no answer could be better than not asking.

He presents it to her.

He has to save her.

He has to come back from this.

Somehow.

“Here,” he says.

GM: “Give it to him.”

The gimp is there. By her side.

The blindfolded, leather-clad man opens his lipless, toothless mouth.

Em can see it clearly, now.

How he has no tongue.

Emmett: He doesn’t know that’s not by choice.

Don’t think of it as feeding a testicle to a gimp fuck. Think of it as putting a really gross coin in a really gross vending machine.

None of it helps.

He just tries not to touch the fucker’s clammy, jagged not-lips.

GM: He touches gums instead as the toothless mouth clamps down over his hand. He supposes that might have hurt if the guy had teeth.

Emmett: Instead it just feels like he’s feeding a testicle to a baby.

So, not better.

GM: There’s not even the sensation of a tongue lapping over his fingers. There’s just wet gum, and then the testicle is gone. Blood runs down the gimp’s face like drool as he gulps and swallows.

“He! Hehehe! He! He!”

Em can see he’s growing hard again. Pinpoints of red well from his cock.

Emmett: He glances at Jermaine.

His cousin’s stony, but he somehow doesn’t think that stony.

GM: Jermaine just stares blankly ahead.

The woman drums her fingers against the leathered crown of the gimp’s head.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Emmett: He becomes suddenly, absurdly aware of his nudity, and shifts his feet slightly.

What a strange fucking night.

He can’t decide what to do with his hands, so he curls them into fists by his sides, pale, weak things nonetheless shining with blood, his own and another’s, spilled.

He doesn’t know why she’s making him wait. It doesn’t make things better.

What if he bleeds out? What pathetic, ignominious way to die.

He supposes he deserves it.

But it would be nice if she would hurry .

Not that he’s going to say that. He feels ill done by, but can’t say exactly why.

GM: The woman starts to chant in a shrill, piercing voice in a language Em doesn’t recognize. It sounds French, but deeper, more guttural. The sound reverberates strangely in his ears, like it’s coming from more many places than once, and makes his spine tingle in all the wrong ways. Blood drips from the woman’s palms as she writhes and flicks like a fire in dance-like motions, banging her palms against the gimp’s chest in a low and steady drumbeat-like sound. The air feels hot and sweet, and there’s a rattling sound too, like a dying man’s last gurgles, though Em can’t say where it’s coming from.

The woman’s hands move, faster, faster, and then they’re over Sami’s face, smearing crushed testicle over her abused features like a runny soup as the gimp toothlessly hoots and hollers like some leashed ape. Jermaine stares blankly ahead, but Em feels a terrible stirring in his blood, a burning feeling, a fire, as the scene seems to hang suspended in time. He doesn’t know when the knife got in his hands, its cruel edge smiling up at him with Sami’s still-fresh blood.

The woman smiles at him, a terrible, intimate, sickening, smile, and he knows.

Blood for blood.

Life for life.

No power without price.

Jermaine stares tranquilly ahead like a sacrificial lamb.

Emmett: He looks down at the knife. At the girl he had raped and killed for wounding his pride.

At his cousin.

“Jermaine,” he says softly. “Look at me.”

He lifts blood stained fingers, and and takes his cousin by the chin.

“I’m sorry I gave you the gun. But you really, really should have listened to me, cuz.”

The knife moves.

It’s like a dream.

This is the right thing.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But he knows with a terrible knowing, it’s what he’s going to do.

So he does it.

Jermaine showed him once.

The fat part of the neck. The slightly bulging vein.

“Honestly,” he hears himself say, as of on the other side of a nightmare he cannot wake out of, “I never liked you all that much.”

GM: The knife parts open Jermaine’s throat like a curtain to the other side of that nightmare.

Or perhaps just deeper in.

Jermaine dumbly froths and gurgles. The sound reminds Em of that same pointlessly hurting fish that so engaged his father. Part of him almost wonders if his father is going to burst in on the scene, red-faced and shouting in swamp-thick Cajun, over what he’s done.

But at least Phil might grab his hand. Make it stop. Stubbornly, firmly, and just a little self-righteously guide him back to some semblance of decency no matter how much Em kicked and protested along the way that he was determined to be the bad boy.

Jermaine just slumps forward.

Blood messily leaks down the front of his shirt. There’s so much of it. It’s everywhere, like water coming out of a punctured balloon. There’s a too-wet thump as his cousin’s face hits the grass and the red stain spreads.

Dad isn’t here.

And Em has been very, very, very bad.

Emmett: He stares the poison-eyed women down with eyes as lifeless as a stubbed out cigar.

A tear rolls down one cheek. But his expression does not change.

“I can be a monster,” he says, his cousin’s blood covering his hands, his chest, everything. “But she lives. She lives.”

Every interaction will be a lie, now. Every conversation a feint from this atrocity. There’s no escaping. No more pretension. He knows who he is.

He’s the villain, now. And that means he lies, or he dies.

GM: Choked, wet, grassy gurgles sound from the ground by Em’s knees for a little while longer.

Then the sound stops. The lie gets that much easier to sell.

Sami gasps like a drowned woman taking her first breath of air. Crushed, wet testicle runs down her unmarred face.

Emmett: He bends to her. Cradles blood-stuck hair in a hand too filthy to clean it.

“You’re okay. You’re okay.”

She definitely isn’t. He looks over her face, her body. The slash in her neck, a broken and bleeding promise.

Do the wounds close?

Does he have his actress?

GM: Sami doesn’t slap away his hand so much as throw it away. Not even with anger. Something rawer, deeper. He can’t even begin to say what that look in her eyes is.

A raw, guttural scream concurrently splits the air.

It’s Dino.

Weeping red from his third-destroyed manhood.

Emmett: He picks up the gun from where it fell by Jermaine’s side.

Some mistakes you don’t make twice.

GM: Dino doesn’t say anything.

He just looks.

He just screams.

He just rises.

He half-barrels, half-lunges towards Sami with madness in his eyes.

Emmett: Well, that makes this part easier.

He steps between them. The gun comes up.

It isn’t like cutting Jermaine’s throat.

It’s more like a video game.

It’s still nothing like a video game.

GM: The gunshot’s roar is explosively, ear-rendingly loud at such close proximity. Em can’t even hear Dino scream anymore.

Just sees his mouth hang open.

Just sees his chest burst open. To the left of his heart.

There’s more red.

The gun seems to all but buck from Em’s hands. It’s so hot. The smell of gunpowder is pungent against his nose as the spent casing hits the grass with a soft thump.

Emmett: “Should have done things my way,” he feels himself say through the endless ringing. He doesn’t know who’s coming up with this, because it doesn’t feel like him. “Now you’ve gone and gone extinct.”

GM: Hearing returns like from a paused movie hit to play.

Dino just writhes.

And screams.

It’s impossible to tear his gaze away from the sight. From the way the man’s ruined chest weeps red with every trembling rise and fall of his breath.

That’s when Em sees Sami crawling over. Like a scripted character entering stage right in the movie. Slow but inevitable.

Emmett: Yeah, and he’s seen this movie before. His fingers burn, they shake, but he reaches for the gun.

GM: Dino keeps screaming.

Sami stabs her fingers into his eyes.

There’s more red. Some clear, murky fluid. Em doesn’t know what it’s called. Dino’s left eye is ruined completely. Squelched, wet bits run down the side of his face. The other stares from a red stem bound up in Sami’s fingers like a surreal yo-yo.

Emmett: The metal burns under his fingers. He approaches the writhing duo, watching. Waiting.

“Sami.”

He doesn’t expect her to look at him immediately.

But he knows he will be heard.

Everybody hears you better with a gun.

GM: Sami tugs.

Hard.

There’s a wet snap.

Dino screams.

Emmett: He winces. Even Tarantino has his limits.

GM: Sami finally starts screaming too. Em’s never heard a sound so furious, so mad, so utterly hateful. Em can’t fully make out what she’s doing from her bent position over Dino’s face. There’s just manic, furious motion from her arms, her hands, and more red. Em wonders how much more red there is.

Dino writhes and screams. There’s a fleshy slap, as the shot and blinded man throws a punch and half-connects, then more screaming and grisly tearing. Sami’s literally biting apart his fingers.

Em can’t say which of them looks more insane. More utterly blind and heedless to anything but their own private hell—and burning desire to visit it upon their tormentor.

Emmett: While she’s having her fun, his fingers explore the strange killing machine. Tries to prise the chamber open.

He’s curious how much death the thing still holds.

GM: There’s a steel magazine that feeds into the chamber. It’s opaque.

It cold hold a massacre of soul-deadening proportions or a game of Russian roulette that’s impossible to lose.

There’s a grisly crunch and wet squirt of blood as Sami’s teeth gnaw against flesh and bone.

Emmett: His lip’s bleeding. He’s chewing it like gum he can’t swallow. It hurts more than his arm does, for some reason.

He fantasizes about doing what he wants to do. The perfect end to a scene. A gun surrendered, a monster spared, a burden set down. Catharsis. He likes that word.

But he can’t ever trust anybody. It’s about time he learned that.

“Sami,” he says again, his hand on her shoulder.

GM: Sami digs her nailed fingers into Dino’s bullet wound.

Emmett: “Sami.”

GM: Drives. Rips. Tears.

He screams.

She screams.

He throws another feeble punch.

It clobbers nothing but air.

After all, he can’t see.

Sami claws and rips at the bullet wound.

Emmett: Something hard bounces off Sami’s hand.

It’s the knife covered in Dino’s blood. Em’s blood.

Jermaine’s blood.

He holds the gun, and waits.

GM: There’s a several-second delay, like a computer with a shitty net connection struggling to load a page.

Then, suddenly, it’s all there.

Em’s almost deaf to the screams by this point. But there’s a lot more red. A lot, lot, lot more.

Emmett: He glances over at the woman. The woman who isn’t a woman.

“Sorry… about the noise.”

Good manners. That was one thing he learned from his parents.

GM: Sami starts with the tip of his penis. It’s not a clean cut. Not in the shaking girl’s blood-spattered hands. It takes several stabs and sawing attempts, but what’s left looks like a cat’s fleshy scratching post at the end.

There’s more screams.

Sami stabs apart his other testicle.

The poison-eyed woman says nothing to Em.

She just watches.

Watches, and licks her lips.

Sami goes after his face next. She isn’t quick. She isn’t clean. Nothing about this is quick or clean.

Em can’t say for how long it goes on. It only seems to end when the screaming does, and Dino’s twitching limbs finally lie motionless.

Sami stares down at what she’s wrought.

Then she throws up.

Emmett: Could be me, he idly notes.

But it isn’t.

GM: The bile covers up some of the blood. What’s left of Dino is barely recognizable.

Sami looks down at it, then heaves again.

Less comes out the second time.

Emmett: He doesn’t say anything. Just looks between the two women.

Finally, he says, “We need to be clean. May we use your hose?”

There’s no sense to it. No way to convey the atrocity or engage with the horrifically earned silence.

So he just asks about the hose, and idly wonders how he’ll stop the bleeding on his arm.

GM: “It’s not my hose,” replies the woman. “The house belongs to the Mafia’s underboss. That was his son you just killed.”

Emmett: “Seemed polite to ask—wait, really? Fuck.”

He considers.

“Honestly, makes me feel less bad.”

It doesn’t.

GM: Sami slowly looks up.

“I suggest you dispose of those corpses before he gets here. Or the police.”

The woman rises to her feet. The gimp bobs his masked head and rubs her leg, giggling toothlessly.

Emmett: He isn’t sure exactly what to say to her. So he offers her a hand. The other still holds his gun.

She could cut him, if she chose. He deserves it.

But he doesn’t think she will. Not now. Not with what’s at stake.

If she does, though, he has a gun. Real American comfort.

It’s the hand already bleeding. The one he’s already thinking of an explanation for.

GM: Sami just stares at his hand. He can see it in her gaze, that’s only scarcely less sharp than the knife. She wants to.

She finally gets up. She doesn’t touch him.

The woman’s poisonous gaze don’t look between the two teenagers so much as seep across them. She smiles, again.

“You can wait to pay me back for this.”

Then she winks.

“And you can bet I’ll have my eye on you both.”

Emmett: “That’s nice,” he says.

Don’t say it. Don’t fucking say it.

“You like movies? I’m making one. You have a real energy for it. Potential. Lots of big eyes in it. Lots of powerful eyes. Might be right for you.”

He winks back.

He feels like a cartoon. It helps. Acting normal would make this real.

GM: The woman laughs. Deeply. Fully. She doesn’t stop.

Em’s eyes take in the nightmarish scene.

Dino’s savaged, bile-soaked, near-unrecognizable remains.

His cousin’s pitched-forward corpse, soaking in its own blood.

The depressed spot on the grass, the fluids, where it happened.

The red, everywhere.

The white glint of teeth.

Sami’s strewn-about clothes.

His clothes.

The woman looks at the teenagers’ naked, gore-caked bodies.

And laughs.

She finally turns to leave, departing the scene as casually as one might a tea party. The gimp crawls after her on all fours, still giggling.

Emmett: “I’ll take that as a maybe,” he mutters. He looks over Sami.

“Listen. I’m not going to pretend I’m a good guy. I’m not even going to pretend that this isn’t all my fault, even though you started it. And just because I feel guilty, I’m not gonna tell you about how bad it’s tearing me up inside, either, because I know you don’t care.”

He looks up Sami’s gore-caked body. The missing teeth. She can get those replaced. Her parents can afford it.

An idea takes root in his mind. Imperfect, slow, and in need of talking out—in need of Sami’s cooperation, terrifyingly— but there’s.

“But I’ll say this, and you’ll listen. I’m not going to prison, and neither are you. I opened a vein for you, and killed my cousin for you, so when I say you belong to me, I don’t have to lie. I go down, you do too, and if you do I’m not far behind. Do what I say, and I can help you. But fuck with me on this, and we’re both worse than dead. You hear me?”

GM: Sami’s eyes flare at the words ‘belong to me.’

“Fuck you,” she hisses.

Emmett: “Yeah, you did that already. How’d it work out?”

GM: Sami starts pulling on clothes. She doesn’t let go of the knife.

Emmett: He walks to the hose, picks it up. “The blood, Sam. We need to get rid of the blood. You’re covered in the blood of the guy you just murdered. I can’t help you if you play this like an idiot.”

He sighs. “And I need you, too. So please. Or we may as well turn ourselves in, now. Maybe with a good lawyer your parents can get you a reduced sentence, but you still killed a man. You’ll still lose everything. Or I can make all of this go away and give you everything you’ve ever wanted. I owe you that much. But I can’t do it alone, so here’s where we are. I belong to you, too. But you need to act like it.”

GM: “I want fuck from you,” Sami snarls.

She finishes pulling on her clothes and briskly walks into the house.

Emmett: He walks after her.

He isn’t carrying the gun when he does.

“Okay. Then kill me. It’ll be easier for you. Claim self-defense. You weren’t asking for any of this, and it’ll look cleaner if we’re all dead. Do it. Because I’m as good as dead anyway, and I’ve already paid too much to kill you. So you can kill me, or we can escape. But those are your options, Sam. They suck ass, because I’m an awful person. But if you fuck this up, everything goes away. And I’m not going to let that happen to you after this. So kill me, or listen to me, but if you walk away, all that happens is maybe the police get you before the mob does. You think I wanted this? I wanted to feel strong again. You want me to bleed and hurt for you, I can. You want me to tell the police I abducted you and raped you, I can. My life’s not worth much, anyway. But neither of those things will get you free. So, please, goddammit, don’t ruin your life. Not after I killed for you to have it.”

He’s aware of the selfishness, the depravity. He knows she can walk away.

If she does, he can kill himself.

He’s so, so tired of hating himself.

“I just don’t want it to be for nothing,” he says quietly, still walking after her. “I’ve done awful things, Sami. So have you. And they’re for nothing if you let them be. And…and…”

Why is it so hard to say?

“I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry. But I can’t fix it without your help.”

He’s crying. It’s pathetic, and childish, and weak.

He hates himself for this more than anything.

But he cries. He cries, and he knows that he is terrible.

Not for everything else. For this.

It is one thing to hurt somebody.

It is another thing to lie.

He has done both too much to care about either.

But now he shows her who he is. He falls before her naked and bloodied, stained and wretched. He shows her his ugly, broken self. The tears he sheds for his own soul don’t wash him clean. They just slick the already-crusting blood.

He is the most wretched, pathetic being on the planet. He knows it. She knows it.

Even in telling the truth, he entraps her.

Poison. He’s poison.

He cries.

GM: Sami just stares at him for a while with slow-blinking eyes.

She’s not crying either. Not right now. But Em can see wounds just as deep, just as raw, just as festering, after tonight. After all that happened. Later, once this is over, Sami will fall to pieces like he is here. Maybe worse. Maybe she’ll need therapy for years. No, she should get therapy for years. She’d be pretty disturbed not to.

Sami just stares at Em. Haunted eyes dully move between his face, his empty hands, and the knife in hers.

“Stuff here we can use,” she says slowly. “Clothes. Stuff.”

“Need. Need to get rid of the bodies.”

She’s silent for a moment.

“People. People saw. Could’ve seen us go in.”

“The, the noise,” she says numbly. “Cops. There’ll be cops. The, the guys. The other ones.” Her voice is dead. “Got away. The, the one. He’s, he’s a co…”

Sami’s voice suddenly breaks.

“Oh… oh fuck…”

Her eyes well, and then the dam breaks.

“Oh fuck… oh fuck…”

Sami sinks to her knees. The tears start. Her knuckles turn white as she clasps the knife like a lifeline.

“Oh-h-h… o-h-h, f-fu-uck…”

Emmett: He isn’t sure how long it takes him to get to his feet. But he does, slowly, deliberately. He pads on bare feet towards her, clutching his leaking vein with one hand. He crouches near her, uncomfortably aware that she can filet his balls if she so chooses.

“I… I think I can get us out of this.” A plan is taking root in his mind, desperate, half-formed, but there.

“I—I need to wash myself off. And I’m going to have to move the bodies. Do you think you can find some spray paint? Maybe some cord?”

He’s thinking furiously as he talks.

The police aren’t going to look for two teenagers. And whatever, easy enough to say they were never here if they don’t match their prints, and how could they?

But the mob… the mob is the real problem.

His voice is warmer than the rest of him when he talks. “I promise you. I’m not letting you get in trouble for this. Even if they come in right now, I’ll take full responsibility. Even for Dino. But I need your help. Okay?”

GM: Sami instantly backs away as Em gets physically close, raising the knife defensively.

Emmett: He doesn’t move. Just waits. He looks tired. And concerned.

GM: Sami doesn’t say anything for a minute. Em wonders how much of what he’s saying is getting through.

Finally, there’s a nod.

“Okay.”

Emmett: He thinks a bit more. “Spray paint. Cord. And money, too. Any money you can find. Anything valuable, break it. Make the place look ransacked. Can you do that?”

GM: Sami doesn’t answer him.

She doesn’t need to.

One look into her eyes is enough for Em to know how she feels about destroying this entire place.

Emmett: Attagirl, he thinks, and stops himself from saying. He goes outside and rinses the blood off. Then he puts his clothes on.

He’ll cover up a murder, sure. But damn if he does it without pants.

“Gas. Gas will work, too.”

The hose’s soberingly cold water rinses over him. He doesn’t feel like he’s been cleaned of filth so much as letting it run off somewhere else. There’s a red-hued puddle when he’s done.

One way or another, he’s setting fire to the yard before he leaves.

GM: From inside the house, he hears the sounds of things breaking.

Emmett: Clothed, he searches the house, wrecking things as he goes—easy enough to find a heavy bat or something and go to town. Still, he searches.

Gas. Spray paint. Cord. Cash.

It’s like grocery shopping but oddly much more interesting.

All the while, his heart hammers to a beat that might end any moment. A banging on the door, a guttural “NOPD!”

He waits for the other shoe to drop as he hunts.

GM: Everything about the house’s interior screams “mob money:” pressed-tin ceiling with medallions and chandeliers, marble mantels, scroll-work moldings, and other similarly luxurious furnishings. Apart from the house proper, there’s also a smaller set of less luxurious rooms with beds, surveillance screens, and a billiards table with emerald-green felt. A private studio is full of cameras, production equipment, condoms, sex toys, bondage gear, sexualized clothing, and everything one would need to direct a quality porno.

The center of the house feels like the office. It’s an extravagant affair with leather furniture that could probably pay fir a good chunk of Em’s college tuition, a collection of old Tommy guns, and a stuffed lion. The expensive-looking hardwood desk has a bust of two prancing horses made from solid silver, a state of the art computer (there’s no obvious hint to the password like Emil’s), and a family photo showing a beautiful wife, an incredibly fat, ugly husband, and a plump boy he recognizes past the baby fat.

Cemetery.jpg
Emmett: He takes a special degree of pleasure in smashing the picture’s frame and grinding broken glass into Dino’s smiling face.

GM: Smashing noises continue to go up from further in the house, with some pauses.

Emmett: The computer he throws into the air and smacks back down with the Louisville slugger he found among the gauche weapons collection. It makes a very satisfying sound.

GM: The heavy desktop machine embarrassingly crashes to the ground about a foot away after the wrist-injured teenager always mocked for how spindly he was tries to heft it.

Emmett: He makes up for the humiliation by stealing the hard drive. Then he just smashes the thing on the ground while the music from Office Space plays in his head.

GM: His hand swiftly hurts.

Emmett: He looks longingly at one of the Tommy guns.

Then he shakes his head and moves on.

Smashing up the room, beyond being satisfying, also does a lot for his planning process. The weapons, some of which definitey look illegal, end up strewn on the kitchen floor for when the police come in.

Call it a little vigilante justice.

There’s so much here he’s sure he could profit from given proper time. But the hard drive he settles for.

He finds what he’s looking for, minus the cash. Sami beat him to that, which is just fine; she’s earned it. The important thing is that the house looks trashed, and it is by the time they’re done.

Then it’s time to set the scene.

The cord goes around Dino’s ruined neck, tied into a noose with a knot his father taught him a lifetime ago—or at least two murders ago. That noose gets tied to the doorknob, so that the slumped, ruined corpse smiles out at the yard. It looks like a lynching.

Jermaine’s body he doesn’t have to change much. Just the way it’s facing, add a few cuts, and voila—his cuz died fighting.

For the coup de grace, or whatever the saying is, he give the spray paint cans a shake—black and red, colors of the night—and starts tagging. The Bloodhound Gangstaz have only slightly better taste in iconography than they do in names.

But one thing they got right is it’s damn easy to spray their name and swag across a townhouse.
He adds a few more murals inside, including some hints to the horrific attack’s motive:

blood 4 blood

Jermaine RIP

Fuck you fatass

And so on.

On the nose? Maybe, but better loud than quiet.

When that’s all done, he waters the garden with the bright red jerry can he found inside. The he makes sure to soak most of the garden in it, too. Especially the…fluids.

He scoops up the dropped camera and waves Sami towards the car.

“Time to go.”

GM: Sami emerges from the house after Em. She’s wearing different clothes underneath a heavy coat and carrying a full shoulder bag.

She doesn’t look like she’s cleaned herself. At all. There’s… something in her eyes. They make Em think of glass that’s about to shatter. Firm and hard before there’s nothing but broken pieces.

She stares vacantly at the car’s open door.

After all, how did getting in a car with Emmett Delacroix work out for her last time?

Her eyes slowly pan towards the camera in Em’s hands.

He can almost hear the cartoon lightbulb’s ‘ding.’

Sami pulls out a gun from inside the coat and cocks it at Em’s head.

“Give me that. Now.”

Emmett: He just raises an eyebrow and holds it out. “It’s yours. Hold onto it. If you want to delete it, go for it. But it’s the only thing that’ll keep Cash Money Mouton from framing us for some awful shit to make us all go away, so don’t let anybody know it’s been poofed. Hey, and show of good faith.” He flips open his phone, slowly, and starts deleting the pictures he took. “Figured I’ve done enough to you. You want to kill me, I guess you’ve earned it, but it won’t make this go any easier.”

GM: “Throw the phone and camera on the ground,” Sami says tightly.

Emmett: He shrugs and tosses them. “Whatever you need to feel comfortable. You want me to drive with that thing pointed at my head? Because I can, but that’s the kind of shit that’ll get us pulled over.”

“I like the coat, by the way. You look badass. I’d be shitting my pants if, you know. Any other night.”

GM: Em’s cellphone hits the grass with a soft thump. That leaves with him with a grand total of zero, after chucking Emil’s phone into some bushes after he called 911.

Too bad he wasn’t using Emil’s here. Calling 911, recording a gang rape… that phone would have really gotten around.

Sami quickly snatches up the camera and the phone, then stuffs them into the bag.

Emmett: “You want to set the fire?”

He watches her. “I get what you’re thinking. Leave me, right? I deserve it. But I also think you deserve a little catharsis. More than a little.”

He stretches, extends the lighter just out of reach. “Tell me it wouldn’t be fun. Come on. I’ll wait.”

He looks her flat in the eyes and says, “There’s nothing I can do to you I haven’t already done, Sam. You can be scared of me, but I don’t really care anymore. I’m trying to make sure the mob doesn’t do something to both of us that makes this look cheap.”

GM: Sami looks at the lighter hungrily for several moments. Em can see his words licking at her thoughts like the tongues of unborn flames.

“Drop it,” she finally says.

Emmett: He does, eyes on hers.

GM: Sami flicks the lighter on, stares into the tiny fire for a moment, then back at Em.

“My name is not fucking Sam.”

She shoots Em in the foot.

It hurts.

A lot.

Em’s ears are still ringing from the gunshot’s roar as Sami tosses the lighter at the nearest gas-soaked part of the nightmare scene. There’s a soft whoosh and sudden heat against Em’s cheeks. Sami hits the button to open the gate, but keeps the gun trained on Em.

“You drive. We go where I say. Stop where I say.”

Emmett: He howls, but something flutters inside him with the pain.

When he comes to, he’s laughing. It’s the noise of a small animal dying, of a cigarette burning flesh, of things not funny in the least but ironic as a grave is deep.

His laughter is ugly, but it is real.

DAMN! Damn, you are… fuck!”

He has to hop one-footed, stumbling as he does, to the car.

When she joins him, he’s still laughing, a corpse-rattle chuckle.

“Wherever you want to go, ma’am. Heh. Hah. You don’t… fuck around. I love that.”

“You know why it has to be you?” he asks suddenly. “Why I need you for this movie?”

He gestures at her, the gun, the coat, the bag. “It’s because you don’t stop. You won’t let yourself. You’ll get what you want and you’ll step on anybody you need to get there. I see it, in your eyes. You’re a goddamn menace, Sami Watts.”

He turns over the engine like a burning burger and with one hand and one foot drives down the street, merges with traffic on the main roads. Just another couple driving home from a date.

“Cécilia doesn’t have anything on you.”

View
Emmett II, Chapter VII
Too Pathetic to Hate

“This cannot be happening.”
Emil Kane


Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007

GM: Cécilia isn’t there at the ice cream parlor, though the ice cream still looks (and tastes) good. The creamery has so many flavors. Lavender Honey, Chocwork Orange, King Cake, La Vie En Rosé, Lemon Icebox Pie, Boo Berry Pie, Buttermilk Drop, and more.

Another evening and school day goes by. Cécilia doesn’t call back. There is still no response to his email to Emil. There are emails from a couple of his actors and actresses, though, asking when shooting is going to start. One is from Hillary Cherry. She says she “needs” to drop out. Nothing personal.

Emmett: The answer to that, at least is simple. He has his leading lady. There are still kinks to be worked out, moving pieces to be snatched up. But the email goes out soon enough. They’re starting now.

Hillary’s email he frowns at.

He writes her that he understands—not everybody can support every project—but he’s still glad she took the time to show up. A lot of people with her talent didn’t, after all.

He also asks if she lost her ID. He was visiting a relative in the Saint Louis #1 Cemetery yesterday when he found it just lying on the ground. He’d be happy to buy her a coffee and return it to her.

Unless it’s another Hillary Cherry with your hair and smile, of course.

GM: Hillary emails back that yes, she did. She’d be happy to meet him at PJ’s Coffee. On her, considering he just spared her the hassle (and expense) of getting a new ID.

Hillary gets the Mixed Berry Smoothie when she arrives. She insists again on paying for both their drinks, citing how, “I’m the one saving money.”

“You wouldn’t believe what a pain it is to lose that,” she says as she sits down. “My mom said we’d have to go to the police station, file something called a First Information Report, visit some other office to get it certified… ugh.”

Emmett: “It sucks to lose precious things,” he agrees. “Especially when you’re normally a careful person.” He takes a sip from his own frozen-blended Mocha Velvet Ice, seven glorious grams of saturated gut-sticking fat swimming in sugar and chocolate and coffee.

PJs.jpg
“Probably didn’t help that you lost it in a cemetery. I know I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t all but stepped on it.”

GM: “Oh, so that’s where you found it? I was going to ask,” Hillary remarks as she sips the purple-pink smoothie. The menu doesn’t say what berries are in it, but it looks sweet enough, if fat-free.

PJs.jpg
“That’s weird. The guy made off with my purse, and my ID was inside my wallet. I read you can sell them on the black market for a few bucks, to use in identity theft.”

Emmett: Yeah, Zyers tried.

“Oh, it was stolen? That must have been awful, I’m sorry. It’s a disgrace, how some people treat that place.”

GM: “Yeah, I was in the cemetery, and this… nutjob, just grabbed off with my purse, and Emil’s phone.” Hillary looks about as happy as anyone might expect. “I had to cancel all my credit cards, and lost a bunch of stuff. You didn’t find anything else, did you?”

Emmett: He shakes his head. “No, I’m very sorry. Emil’s your boyfriend, right? The theologian? How’s he holding up?”

Yeah, I’m real sorry I didn’t make Zyers cum for your plastic.

“It’s normal for people to have nightmares after moments like that, even if they’re quick. Make sure you take care of yourself.”

GM: “Oh, ugh,” Hillary says. “He’s been ghosting me. We had a fight, or, well, not really a fight. I guess I got kinda terse with him. Though he kinda deserved it too.”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s because my brother’s in the Marines, but he just didn’t do anything when we got mugged. The guy didn’t have a knife or gun or anything. Maybe he’s embarrassed about it, I don’t know, but I haven’t heard a peep from him since the guy swiped his phone.”

“That’s kinda why I’m dropping out of the movie. Just… not really up for it, with how things are with us.”

Emmett: I mean, he could have thrown a punch, but then the freak would have just started hitting on him. It’s a lose/lose situation.

“That’s real sad to hear, Hillary,” El says solemnly, I’m that way only Southern men seem to be able to completely pull off. “I’m obviously biased when I say this, but I think there’s a lot to be said for getting involved with a project like this when things start going wrong. If people only made art when they felt clean, we’d live in a more boring world.”

He sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “If you don’t mind me being honest, too, things actually aren’t where they were with Cécilia and me. I know that’ll change my writing for this script, but it’ll make it more honest, too.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. But, ehhh.” Hillary makes a face. “Maybe you’re more of an artist than me, but I don’t really wanna go in and act with him when we aren’t even talking.”

Emmett: “Well, artsy reasons aside, it would mean a lot to me.” He drums his fingers on the table. “What if I talked to him for you? He hasn’t answered my emails, and he seems like a decent enough guy. I’m sure you didn’t start dating him because he was flexing and blusterin’ all over the place. I think he might just be depressed or something.”

For a niggerjew. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m warming to it.

GM: Hillary thinks. “Well, I’m not really sure if I want to stay together at this point, honestly, but… I won’t stop you if you want to try.”

Emmett: He stares into the depths of his caffeinated confection. “When you make something like this, for somebody like her, for Cécilia, you do what you have to to make it the best it could be. Not because you have to, but because you can’t imagine doing anything else. If I can find Emil, I’ll talk sense into him. Be damn senseless of him not to reach out to somebody he’s lucky to have in the first place, way I see it.”

GM: “Well, I guess it’s like they say. You never know what you have until you lose it.”


Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007

GM: Hillary provides Em with Emil’s address. It’s a crappy little apartment building in Riverbend, the sort of place typical for a college student who’s only moved off-campus within the past few years. Briarwood or something. There is no answer when Em knocks against the door.

Emmett: He tries the handle pretty quickly. He wonders how trusting Emil is.

GM: Emil may or may not be trusting, but he doesn’t seem to be a complete, slack-jawed and drooling idiot.

Emmett: Good to know. Maybe he’ll realize that he’s never going to find a better girlfriend than Hillary, or at least a better-connected one for Em’s purposes.

Still, Jermaine’s taught him some few tricks, and he’s restless.

He takes out the bobby pins and screwdriver he nicked from the tool drawer Phil rarely uses and gets to work quickly and quietly.

After lifting the mat to see if there’s a key.

Some people really are that stupid.

GM: There is no mat within the cheap apartment building, but the equally cheap lock comes open after only a perfunctory effort.

Support: Emil’s apartment is small but not cramped. It is barely furnished, and most of the furniture is either misplaced or stuck in boxes. It’s a one room affair with a closet-like bathroom and a cot placed directly next to a desk, with the pillow resting directly under a shelf with an antique cuckoo clock resting on top of it. It’s just low enough that you’d have to be awake to not hit your head getting up and if you weren’t awake, the hit would certainly do the job.

The desk is the most cluttered thing in the room, and has the highest concentration of expensive effects. His 4:3 cinder block of a monitor rests on top of multiple college textbooks on subjects that have names like Topology and Computer Vision and sport plain covers. There’s a pair of bins labeled “UNGRADED” and “GRADED,” the former significantly more full. Then there’s a multitude of books written in curly semitic blockscript and annotated with multicolored sticky notes alongside a sizable collection of yellow and brown phone-books from both California and Louisiana.

Emmett: He stares around the room for a moment, goggling. Maybe there’s a reason some people choose to live like this, and some people want more. Need more.

But fuck if he cares to figure it out.

He isn’t tossing the place, but he can at least glance around, see if he can figure out the last time “Em” was home.

GM: The college student notably seems to lack a backpack. There aren’t any keys placed anywhere the “real” Em can see either.

Support: Except of course those placed inside the hefty mechanical keyboard facing the monitor, which when woken up shows a password entry box and a ‘hint’ button. When clicked, the revealed hint says, All caps. No spaces. Girlfriend’s middle name. My mobile phone’s model. Name of best array searching algorithm by time complexity.

Also on the desk is a scheduling notebook, whose latest entry reads, Library Research: Why did she[Name TBD] have to die?

Emmett: “Christ, don’t make it easy to crack or anything,” Em mutters. He thinks back to the middle name from the ID, and ponders calling Miranda.

He frowns at the scheduling book.

Novel idea, maybe? But the other entries are all so boring.

Weird.

He texts Miranda as he considers the missing backpack. Missing keys.

Emil isn’t here, but he didn’t step out for a Glee Meal or something. Backpacks are a pain. You take them when you need them.

He feels suddenly stupid, breaking into the guy’s apartment like a P.I. or a detective from the cop shows he used to watch with Dad, back when he hadn’t been completely soured on TV. Thrillers when Em got to pick National Geographic or An Inconvenient Truth the rest of the time.

Fuck National Geographic, and the only part of Inconvenient Truth he enjoys is the ending, where the whole world burns.

GM: At least some part of Em’s world would seem to be figuratively burning. Very unusually, there is no immediate reply back from Miranda.

Emmett: Other people will always let you down.

He’ll wait for a few minutes before calling it. Maybe some of Emil’s cultists will be able to help him.

GM:A few minutes pass without response.

Emmett: Fuck Miranda. He calls her.

GM: One ring passes, then several, then more. It’s on the last- or second-to-last-sounding one that he gets a young-sounding girl’s quavering, “Hello?”

Emmett: “Hey, Miranda.” He doesn’t want to ask, but it’s the polite thing to do. “Are you ok?”

GM: “I’m not Miranda.”

Emmett: “Oh. That’s fine. Who are you?”

GM: “I’m Jamie.”

Emmett: “Hey Jamie. Are you, like, Miranda’s sister?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Emmett: “Are you also good with computers?”

GM: “Not really.”

There’s a pause.

“Um, what’s… going on?”

Emmett: “That’s unfortunate. Where’s your sis at?”

GM: Jamie’s voice is hushed. “Miranda’s in the hospital.”

Emmett: “I’m just trying to figure out this crossword. What do you mean she’s in the hospital?”

Can teenage girls have heart attacks?

GM: “She’s really sick. Or hurt. Or…” the girl’s voice remains hushed. “We’re scared she’s gonna die.”

Emmett: “Oh, my God. What’s wrong with her?”

God, of course she gets sick right when I need her. Cow.

GM: “I-I dunno…”

Em can hear crying over the line.

Emmett: “Hey. hey. She’ll be all right. You know how she is. That girl doesn’t give up on anything.”

Like her cholesterol levels.

GM: “I… I dunno what’s going on…”

Emmett: “How old are you?”

GM: “Eleven…”

Emmett: That’s too young to flirt with.

GM: “I… I gotta go.”

Emmett: “Wait a minute.”

He isn’t sure why he cares. He shouldn’t. She’s just the fat girl who knows computers.

“Tell Miranda… tell her I’m thinking of her. And that I hope she feels better. She’s a good friend.”

He closes his eyes for a moment.

“Okay?”

GM: “O… okay, I will.” The child’s voice sounds a little steadier.

“Um, tell her who?”

Emmett: “Em. Tell her Em’s thinking of her.”

GM: “Okay… bye.”

The line dies.

Emmett: He doesn’t know why he’s scared. There are more like her. There are always more.

But you’d miss her, A very, very quiet part of him thinks. Her and her stupid, awkward, cute way of trying to flirt with you.

He glances at the phone.

He’s never known somebody who died before. Not really. Not who was, like, a person. Like, not old.

He doesn’t want to.

And if he has to, he doesn’t want it to be her.


Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007

GM: It’s when Emmett turns off the phone and turns to leave that he notices the smell.

He’s met a few of them, at clubs. Self-described ‘blood dolls.’ Pasty-faced goths and social rejects someone like him could find no end of qualities to mock. But it was never their black clothes, their white makeup, their spiked collars, their crucifixes, their torn fishnets (on the girls or guys), that was the first thing about them he noticed, and found such ready fodder to belittle.

It was the smell from their razor-blade necklaces. Those red-crusted bits of sharp metal Lena said were so dangerous because they were crawling with infectious germs, with HIV, with God knows what else from so many sexual partners’ bloodstreams. Em remembers how those things smelled from the girl who angrily waved hers at his face. Coppery. Cloying. Moldering.

But not nearly so pungent, so strong, or so fresh, as the sanguine reek filling his nostrils now.

Emmett: Concern for Miranda is swiftly driven from his mind.

Okay, so maybe Emil blew his brains out. That would make sense. Em might kill himself if he was black, Jewish, and a pussy. He thought about killing himself now and his life was quantifiably sexier than Emil’s.

But it’ll be helpful to know.

Something about the smell of blood makes him need to know.

He follows the scent. Like a cartoon character floating after a pie left on the windowsill.

GM: That scent leads him to another, just as implausible childhood place where it hangs thickest.

Under the bed.

Emmett: He bends to look.

He thinks of his own bed, at home.

What does a man like Emil keep under his?

Nose.jpg
GM: Most of a nose. Part of a lip. Part of some cheeks. Nothing else.

Except the blood smeared over it.

Emmett: Fuck.

Well, fuck.

He starts giggling.

What the fuck. What the fuck.

The giggles turn to snickers. Snickers to snorts and guffaws and giggles again, and then he realizes he’s cackling like a fucking madman but it doesn’t matter at all.

“What the fuck?!” he screams at the pale, flaccid-looking piece of face. “What the fuck?!”

It could be a prop, except it obviously fucking can’t be.

FUCK!”

Can’t yell. Can’t be too loud.

What’s the plan? Does he need a plan? He sure as fuck isn’t trying to talk to the cops.

He’s in the bathroom when he stops laughing. Did he start crying at some point? Doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

He fixes his hair.

“Fuck,” he says.

Then he lunges for the toilet.

After he’s done heaving, he flushes.

GM: A guttural moan splits the air from behind him.

Emmett: “Fuck!”

GM: It doesn’t stop. Just goes on like a wounded dog’s needful whine.

Emmett: He scrambles out of the bathroom, eyes wide. “H-hello?”

GM: It’s coming from under the bed.

Emmett: There is absolutely no good reason to look.

This makes the crick in his neck as he bends to do exactly that exponentially more frustrating.

GM: There’s a man. Coated and dripping in more blood than Em has ever seen, his skin torn open with hideous gashes, muscles and guts and gristle gleaming disgustingly against the light. Naked. Screaming. Writhing and jerking spasmodically like a fish out of water.

It’s Emil.

Support: His eyes are stretched open, two ivory orbs crowded with bulging veins which chain two brown pupils which struggle in their bonds, moving frantically but unable to escape their prisons.

His screams begin inscrutably but curiously they are punctuated with what seem to be cries of the name of the Swedish pop group, “ABBA!”

Emmett: “Shut up!” he shouts back. “Shut up! Fuck!”

He scrambles for the blanket on top of the bed, wraps the gore-covered man in a hug that belies the jerking reaction of his words.

Support: Emil’s flailings make it a nuisance to wrapping him up, but the man is too broken to resist effectively. His limbs thrash weakly against the blanket and the screams seem to last a small eternity, but something about being smothered calms Emil down enough to recognize Emmett.

“E… El? Where am I?” he half-screams, his bloodsoaked brows scrunching up like a wet rag.

Emmett: “You’re home. You’re home, it’s okay, just… if you can take a few deep breaths, try to do that.”

His mind feels curiously blank. He has nothing but contempt for Emil, or so his jaded ethos insists.

And yet you cannot hate what you know you must pity.

“Do you have any hot chocolate?” he asks lamely. “Or tea, or something? Just… relax. I’ll make something.”

Support: “Tea. Yeah, tea.” He nods and points to a cardboard box with a quivering that is so torn Em can see the long strands of sinew stretching and contracting as he gestures. There’s a tea kettle resting on top of a box of Lipton.

He catches a glimpse of the innards of his limb and he starts to shudder a little short of violently under the blanket. “A dream within a dream,” he mutters not so quietly.

Emmett: He happily takes the excuse to turn away, to avoid looking at the ruined mess of bloodied and scarred flesh.

He watches the kettle as the water heats, imagining the bubbles rising, quickening.

“Is—is there anything else I can do for you?” he asks, fully aware of the absurdity of the question.

Support: Emil responds equally absurdly. “Wake me up. Please wake me up.”

Emmett: “O-okay. I can make some coffee too.”

This is a lie. He’s never made coffee before. But he tries. It’s not that different from hot chocolate, right?

He eventually sets two mugs before Emil, one with tea, the other with lousy, mostly gray fluid. He’s also prepared the cup of noodles predictably tucked into the student’s cupboard.

He lets Emil eat in silence while he sips occasionally from his own glass of hot water. The kind his mom used to make for him when he had nightmares.

To burn the fear away.

Support: “I guess I’m awake now,” Emil says, staring down at the granular remains at the bottom of his coffee mug.

“Thank you.” He puts the cup down, wincing at the movement.

Emmett: “It’s okay,” he says, far too quickly. Nothing about this is okay.

“So, um. Uh.”

He scratches at the back of his head.

“What… what happened?”

Support: “I was at the library researching—and then the lights turned off—and then it was chasing me—and then it got me. And then I thought I was going to die. And then it spoke to me in Hebrew. And then…” He stares Em in the eyes, swallowing something thick down.

“I woke up in a memory, and everything was red. And everything was dark. And now I’m here awake again. But I was drugged. I must have been drugged…” he trails off, drinking deeply but getting nothing from the other empty mug.

Emmett: “Oh.”

Em takes a sip of his hot water.

Because he has to say something, he says, “My name is Em. Not El.”

He considers calling the police. Clearly, the poor fucker’s mind is gone.

But then he wonders.

“Hold on a second,” he mutters, and checks under the bed again.

GM: It’s there.

Pale.

Bloody.

Missing the rest of the face it should be attached to.

Emmett: He looks away, quickly.

“Okay. Okay. I have a weird question to ask.”

But instead of asking, he points.

GM: Emil lies slumped over, noodles and water running freely from the spilled cup.

Support: A heavy stream of red and yellow chunks spew out of Emil and over El—no, Em’s lap as he goes down. Fresh ramen noodles adorn his pants in a broth of bile and internal hemorrhaging. The carpet gets a helping as well.

Emmett: “Oh, come on!”

He just sits there covered in filth for a moment, wondering what to do.

Okay, okay.

This is bad.

But so is his life already.

He uses Emil’s phone to call 911.

GM: “911, what is your emergency?” asks a woman’s voice.

Emmett: A decent rendition of the slightly older man’s voice replies, “Help! Help, I don’t know what’s going on, I think I’m about to pass out.”

Glancing at the unconscious man, he adds, “I’ve been drugged.”

You and me both, Emil.


Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007

GM: Emmett takes off after giving Emil’s address to the 911 dispatcher. He hopes it’ll look like no one else was there. Or at least that Emil came to, made himself some tea and soup, and then collapsed. He supposes it won’t stand up to a real investigation, but he has to let the assumption guide them. After some thought, he decides not to cover up the nose. For all he knows it’ll help the cops figure out what happened. He even gets Emil’s head elevated and shit after he takes off.

It’s a big fucking risk, but it bears some resemblance to the right thing.

Emmett: He tells himself that, anyway. He still wants to shower the shit he saw away.

The worst part, the absolute worst part of the whole disaster of checking up on the decidedly unfortunate Jew, is going back home. Knowing that whatever he’s done here today, whatever fragile good he’s managed to restore to the world, he’s still marching to the same beat he was yesterday.

The same pealing, pitiless rhythm of her laugh.

He showers when he gets home and thinks. Some of what he hopes dearly is noddle soup oozes down him and down the same drain. It’s funny, when you clean yourself too many times, the shower starts to feel dirtier.

When this is all over, he promises himself, he’ll leave. Leave this house of secret