The upside down city shimmered on the surface of the Charles River. Doyle stared at it, musing whether the people who lived there would be any less miserable. It seemed to make some sense that in an upside down world, everything would be opposite.
A horn bleated and Dopplered as he jerked the wheel right, pulling the Camaro back across the center line. “Bastard,” he muttered. He rolled down the window and let the frigid air blast his face, gulping breaths to clear his head. There was only a slight taste of something unsavory.
The road dipped as it passed over the Esplanade into Back Bay.
Fucking Back Bay. The only part of downtown that wasn’t laid out with pick-up sticks. They even alphabetized the cross streets for the rich fucks. The rest of the city is a big “screw you” to anyone who didn’t grow up here. Typical parochial Boston bullshit.
He spit, but most of it blew back, freezing on the side of the car.
At least Southie was built on a proper grid, even if it’s bent in the middle. It might be all drunken loons now, but whoever designed it was sober enough at the time.
He turned left onto Commonwealth Avenue.
Hereford. Gloucester. Yeah, try pronouncing that one if you’re not local. Fairfield. Essex.
Snowflakes drifted down, melting as they hit the windshield. He turned on the wipers, rolled the window halfway up, and lit a cigarette.
Dartmouth. Clarendon. Brick, granite, brick, brick, granite. Colonial, Federal, Victorian. Berkeley. Arlington. Rich fucks.
He puffed impatiently on his cigarette and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited at the lights opposite the Public Garden. His chest felt tight and his brain was buzzing. The light changed and he popped the clutch, the tires squealing on the wet pavement as the car careened right onto Arlington. He tapped the brake twice and straightened it out.
“Jesus fuck,” he exhaled, looking around apprehensively for flashing lights. “Stay in control. Don’t lose your shit.”
As he eased to a stop at the lights at Boylston, another car pulled alongside on the left, its radio blaring an anonymous disco tune. He reflexively shot a look of annoyance, then quickly looked straight ahead as he registered tank tops, feathered hair, and neatly trimmed mustaches. The windows of the car were all open, despite the intensifying snow.
“Guess she didn’t like what she saw.” The fey voice was so loud he knew it was a deliberate play for attention.
“Then I guess she must have seen you,” another replied as loudly.
“Fuck you, bitch,” said the first.
Doyle pretended not to hear them.
“She’s a butch one,” said the second voice.
“And cute, too,” added a third.
He felt heat traveling up his neck and focused hard on the stoplight, willing it to change.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” the third voice called eagerly, and Doyle saw an arm waving in his peripheral vision. “Do you have a light?”
“Guess she’s the shy type, Felicia,” said the first.
“More likely the type with a humpty frumpty wifey and three little dumplings waiting at home,” said a new voice.
“Well, if you change your mind, we’ll be at 12 Carver,” called the third voice hopefully. “I’ll save you a seat.”
“On her face,” trilled the fourth, followed by raucous laughter.
The light changed and the car rocketed away, turning left onto Boylston. “Bye, girlfriend!” a voice carried back.
Doyle sat at the green light for almost a minute breathing hard, his heart pumping. Finally a horn beeped behind him and he crossed the intersection and continued up Arlington. He felt numb, dizzy. As he passed the old armory on the corner of St. James, he suddenly pulled to the curb, opened the door, and began dry heaving.
She? She? She?
The words echoed in his head.
Why would they call me that? Why would they assume I’m one of them?
His stomach convulsed again, but still nothing came up.
Or maybe it was just some dirty fag trick to make me feel insecure, trick me into thinking I am.
He stopped gasping and spit a phlegmy gob into the street.
I’m nothing like them. If I had my gun I’d have taught them not to fuck with me. I’d have taught them to show respect.
He sat up.
What did the one in the passenger seat look like? The one who waved?
He couldn’t remember any of their faces. He hadn’t looked at them that closely.
But I know where they’re going and what the car . . . .
He shook the thought out of his head.
As if I’d ever go to a fag bar. That’s all I need, one of the mobsters who owns them or some cop collecting a pay-off thinking I’m a fag. Besides, in a bar people want to talk. They want to know things about you or spend time with you after. Fuck that. I don’t want to spend time with fags. I just need to take the edge off.
He wiped his mouth with his hand and lit a fresh cigarette.
A few times around the block in the car that nobody knows.
But first, another bottle.
Sal Pesky pulled the dirty sheet up, but the cold had already seeped into his bones. He checked his watch. Another four hours.
Kansas. Over the rainbow. Or was it before the rainbow? That part of the movie always confused him. He knew Dorothy went over the rainbow to get to Oz, but since she ended up back in Kansas and the rest of it was probably just a dream anyway, did that mean Kansas was actually over the rainbow?
He began absently humming the song.
He knew he was getting squirrelly. Another day and he’d probably be babbling to the furniture. He wished he had someone else to talk with, but the phones in the motor lodge were dead, along with the electricity and heat, and the snow and wind were too strong to walk to the gas station up the highway to use the pay phone.
Besides, it wasn’t like anyone wanted to talk to him. So much for turning to family and friends in times of need. The nicest thing anyone had said to him was, “I’m going to do you a favor and pretend you never called me, you dumb sonofabitch.”
But he wasn’t a dumb sonofabitch. Even though he’d never killed anyone before, he was sure he’d done it right. He’d pressed the muzzle right against the side of Conti’s head and pulled the trigger twice. He hadn’t missed. He was sure of it, even though he’d had his eyes closed. He’d heard Conti’s brain splat on the wall and smelled the burnt hair and skin and blood. Yeah, maybe he should have stuck around long enough to check whether Conti was still breathing, but he needed to get outside before he puked.
His humming became more frantic.
It was all that little bitch’s fault. If it hadn’t been for her, he wouldn’t be here now. That fucking bitch. If she’d been home where she was supposed to be instead of out in the park in her little pink jammies, none of this would have happened.
As soon as he’d found out who she was, he’d gone to Jules and told him what had happened. Or at least enough so Jules would know it was all just a big misunderstanding, that he didn’t really do anything. Jules had understood and had promised to keep him safe.
He cradled the gun tighter to his chest.
Not that that had kept the nightmares away. Every night he’d had the same dream about The Gardener coming after him. He wasn’t even sure what The Gardener looked like, but he’d still dream about him and wake up screaming, soaked in sweat, and have to check to make sure he still had his tongue and all his fingers and toes.
He’d had to eat a lot of shit, but Jules had kept his word, and then suddenly he had the chance to make it right. Take care of Conti, and it would all be square. Now everyone wanted him dead instead. That fucking bitch. It was all her fault.
He checked his watch again. Only a minute had passed. Four more hours and he could leave for Portsmouth and catch a bus to Albany, then a train to Topeka.
They’d never look for him there because he had no connection. Just the movie, but he never talked about that with anyone because they might think it was strange he liked it so much.
And he’d been careful. After he took the bus to Springfield he’d hitched a ride to Providence, then stolen a car and driven it right back through Boston and up to Danvers. Even if they figured out the Springfield part, they wouldn’t be able to find him.
The old motor lodge had popped into his mind as soon as he knew he had to find a place to hole up. Just like that it had come to him. He’d driven past it probably a thousand times since it closed after the fire and he’d never thought twice about it, but then suddenly he knew it was where he should go.
The car was out back. No way anyone could see it from Route 1. He was cold and hungry as hell, but at least he was safe. Jimmy the Gardener would never be able to . . . .
He heard a faint rustle outside the door and froze. Cold sweat trickled down the small of his back as he strained to listen. Just the wind, he tried to reassure himself.
Another noise, just outside the door. A cough? He jerked the gun up, his arm shaking as he cocked it. His eyes stung, his vision blurred.
In the darkness he thought he heard the door knob twisting, though he was sure he’d locked it. A sliver of light appeared just inside the frame and his finger spasmed on the trigger. A dry click echoed in the room. He let out a small whimper and frantically pulled the trigger again and again.
When he heard the sharp metallic tick of the pruning shears snapping shut, he began to scream.