The first draft of This Is Heaven is finished now. We have to accelerate a bit, otherwise we're not done posting teasers before the book comes out. So, here, teaser no. 20. Alex is going to change tack John-wise (Alex is amnesic, remember?). Hold your breath:
“I was a paramedic, right?” Alex says as I’m driving us up the ramp behind the condo to get on Route One.
“Paramedics earn money.”
“Enough to own a car.”
“You have an idea where it would be, my car?”
“It was at your place last time I saw it.”
“Yes,” I say.
“I mean, would be easier if you don’t have to chauffeur me around all the time.”
“The idea was that you shouldn’t go back to your place for a while. That’s what the psychologist said.”
“What her replacement read from a brochure.”
“Okay. I’ll pick up the car, is all. Where do I live?”
We change directions. His place is two minutes up Landing Road from the Memorial. The neighborhood hasn’t changed much since Thursday night. It is still on the wrong side of the hospital (Georgia Beach lost its railway connection long ago)---semi-detached structures from the 80’s mostly, semi-run down, and a dog that never sleeps; not much greenery, patchy, sun-burnt lawns, few trees.
Alex’s place is a standalone Dutch revival, small. “This is where I live?” he asks.
“Right. And the car?”
I point at the white Toyota Prius on the driveway. “Cool,” he says, “Saving energy. Good to know.” He taps on the dashboard of my truck, then pats his shorts and produces a key ring without car key. “I got this from Alice. The house keys, I guess. The car key will be inside, somewhere.”
So we climb the stairs. It’s sizzling outside already but inside under the roof it’s getting worse. Alex fumbles with the keys. He turns the key, the door gives way and we’re hit by a wall of dense, putrid air.
“Smell it?” he asks and steps into his apartment. “Q-E-D, this is heaven. My body still lying---where did you find me?”
“In the bathroom.”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
Yes, I really do this, I walk us the fifteen feet to the bathroom. There’s the body of a mouse decomposing in the spot where I found Alex on Thursday night.
“A case of reincarnation, John.” he says. “Moving up the Hindu ladder. I’ve been a good mouse.” He plants a kiss on my cheek that will---spoiler alert---be his last kiss for some time.
“If it’s reincarnation, it’s not heaven,” I say.
“Oh-no, you have seven layers of heaven included in the reincarnation cycle.”
It’s a tiny mouse, but the stench is overwhelming. Alex picks it up at the tail, ponderously, dangles it at nose level, or eye level, dumps it into the john and flushes the water. “So,” he says, “this is where I live.” He looks around until he spots the air conditioning under the window in the den and ambles over to switch it on.
“You knew you didn’t have the car key,” I say, following him in-to the den.
“I apologize,” he says.
The chaos of Thursday’s rescue panic is still in place, Ray and me dragging Alex’s OD’d body through the lack of space of this tiny apartment, low knee walls below the sloped ceilings, all chairs (two) fallen over, a coffee table (yard sale) fallen over, a small couch (yard sale) at an odd angle, a couch table (displaced), a helpless mini-rug (dog-eared), shards of a broken coffee mug spread across the rough-hewn floor. I collect a few pieces and arrange them side by side on the kitchen countertop. It’s merchandize spinoff from the Urban Dictionary, saying sucking streak. There’s also a definition of the term, presumably, still spread across the floor, and perhaps not really needed.
Oxycodone,” he says. “Excellent choice. Going out on a high.”
Alex picks up one large shard with half the UD-logo showing, holds it up, hands it to me. “Let’s see how I disposed of myself,” he says. He looks around. A lone medication bottle resides on the kitchen countertop; he picks it up. “Oxycodone,” he says. “Excellent choice. Going out on a high.” He shakes—rattles—the bottle, some pills are left inside. “Good thinking,” he says, “saving energy. Plus, you swallow too much, you don’t die, you puke.” He rolls his head. “Must be terrible to wake up from a failed suicide.” He col-lects the remaining mug-shards, wavers, then tosses the pieces into the garbage can. He looks mortal. “Trying to make up your mind,” he says, “stupid.” He rattles the bottle again. “Stupid,” he repeats, “stupid.”
He walks back into the bedroom. I’m waiting for him to re-emerge until I hear the noise of a squeaky bedstead. I enter the bed-room, he’s lying on the single twin bed, supine, arms half-splayed. “Lying in your own bed,” he says. “Home sweet home.”
“My bed is larger,” I say.
“Size is relative.”
“I need a time-out.”
“How do you mean?”
“Our bed is too small,” he says.
Parse that sentence, I think. “Parse that sentence,” I say.
“Our bed is too small?” he says. “Noun takes dative alternation and returns noun phase. Verb takes modifier takes modifier and returns verb phase. Noun phrase takes verb phrase, and voila.” He gets up, rights the coffee table, the chairs, fusses about the mini-rug, and disappears in the kitchenette.
“You want a cup of coffee?” I hear him saying.
“We have an espresso machine.”
“We should talk, briefly.”
“No-no-no,” I say.
It takes him an eternity to prepare the espresso. He reappears, deposits the cups on the table. “Have a seat,” he says and nudges me onto the couch. “Listen,” he says, sitting down next to me. His next word will be Ben.
“It gets busy on a cloud bank, you move to the next cloud bank.”
“Ben,” he says. “This situation with Ben.”
“This is heaven, you said.”
“It gets busy on a cloud bank, you move to the next cloud bank.”
“Ben will be gone in a few days.”
There is a silence.
“Did we talk now?” I ask.
“This sounds like the end of the conversation.”
“Can I ask you a question?” (I say).
“You said you love me.” (Cringe.)
“This is heaven.” He takes a sip of his espresso.
“You want to get rid of me?”
“No-no,” he says, “please stay. I want to ask you something. From what I gathered, Benson kills his ex-wife in a hit-and-run on the parking lot of this pizzeria. Two days later, Benson is almost killed in a hit-and-run in the same location, the same evening I do my thing, and then Godehart’s self-steering SUV, which I had been using that day, God knows why, needs repair work. On the front bumpers and the hood. You know anything about this?”
(I couldn’t care less how many people he killed.)
“Well,” I say, “why don’t you ask Godehart?”
“I thought so,” he says. “Listen, I have to run. See you on the field. You’ll see yourself out.”
“Somebody needs to lock up the place,” I say, but he’s already gone. I get up and peer down through the dirty glass of the window. He’s easing into his Prius and drives off.
The A/C is still running. We should save energy and switch it off. Or disable it and save the planet—No way Alex could stay here if the thing is broken. How do you make an A/C unit go bump? I’m looking around for a screw driver and find one in the cutlery drawer of the kitchenette. Four screws. Shouldn’t be too difficult to loosen the casing. I switch the unit off and stick the screw driver in be-tween the fan blades, then put the casing back in place. I forget about the screws.
Are you still there? Then you'll possibly like the GREEN EYES. The first part is out now, available as Kindle book on Amazon, under this link: