I sped back into the heart of the city, swerving around cars, trying not to imagine what I’d find when I got to her apartment. I parked on the street, hopped the fence surrounding the complex, and ran. I wove through the various buildings looming like silent sentinels above me, and rushed up the three flights of steps to her door. I was sweating and out of breath as I pounded my fist against her door, calling out her name.
Was she even home? What if she was lying dead on the floor, a victim of Rob’s insanity? Who could I call to ask about her? How could I get into a third floor apartment without the key?
I could hear movement on the other side of the door. A muffled voice said something that sounded like, “Goddamnit, really?” and I could hear a deadbolt spinning. The door opened, and she was standing there in the pajamas she always wore on her nights in, her long brown hair and her hazel eyes as beautiful as ever, a pissed off expression on her face.
“What do you want? And why are you all gross?”
In between panting breaths, I gasped, “Hopped your fence. Ran up stairs.”
She shook her head. “You fucking lunatic. What are you doing here?”
“Had to talk to you. About Rob. Don’t take Yellows.”
Her face contorted in a look of annoyance and confusion. “What?”
I took a deep breath, did my best to stand up straight and compose myself. “I heard from Danny Boy that you gave Googe some pills Rob had given you. Yellow ones with a white dot on one side. Don’t take them. Rob made them. They’re… poisonous.”
She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. “You heard from Danny Boy heard from Googe, huh? Jeez, it’s like playing telephone with burnouts.”
I frowned, but I ignored the insult. “Look, all I’m saying is don’t take Yellows. They’re dangerous.”
“I’m not taking Yellows! I ran into Rob at a party a while back, the dude went on some rant about changing the world, and he gave me a little can full of pills. You really think I’m going to try anything Rob’s pushing? Come on, give me a little credit.”
I said nothing. I just stared at her in silence, processing this new information. My phone rang, but I swatted at it through my pocket, silencing it.
She sighed. “I’m not taking them, alright? I never even tried one. I was going to toss them in the trash, when Googe walked up to me and started talking about them. He obviously wanted to try them, so I gave the pills to him. There. That’s the story. Happy?”
“He was trying to get me away from his house,” I said softly. “He knew I’d rush over here to see you. He used you to get me away from his house.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Rob. I was over at Rob’s earlier so I could confront him about the Yellows when he insinuated that you were going to overdose or something.”
She snorted. “And you believed him?”
My eyes narrowed to slits. “It’s been a rough fucking week, alright? Forgive me for thinking that someone I love was in danger and wanting to do something about it.”
She drew back as if I’d slapped her. She looked away. My phone rang. I silenced it. “What?” I asked, my voice as hard and as cold as ice.
“I really wish you wouldn’t say things like that,” she said still looking away from me.
“I wish for a lot of things. I don’t get any of them, either.” She had no response to that. I sighed. I felt defeated, but at least she wasn’t dead from an overdose. “I’m going,” I announced. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Yeah, you too.” She frowned. “Are you okay?”
I tried to imagine what I looked like to her. Covered in scratches and bruises from my falls earlier in the day, beads of sweat running down my face, a dark light burning in my eyes, and here I was ranting about drugs. “Do I look okay to you?”
“Look, I thought you were here to… I thought that you were going to…”
“I got the message last time, thanks.”
“You clearly didn’t, otherwise you wouldn’t be calling me at 1 in the morning on a Monday to–”
“Yeah, I fucked up, I get it.”
Silence. “I don’t want to be like this,” she said. “I don’t want to think, ‘Oh fuck, now what?’ when you show up on my doorstep. I don’t want us to be like this.”
“You think I do?”
“I think you have a vision of how the world is supposed to be and you have a way you like to act when reality doesn’t match it. I think you like to suffer.” She stared at me for a moment, frowned. She wasn’t annoyed this time, though. There was no anger, no frustration in her eyes. Just worry. “Where are you going?”
“Back to Rob’s.”
“Is there anything I can do to keep you from doing that?”
I shook my head. “Probably not.”
“Well, do you want a glass of water or anything before you go?”
I opened my mouth to speak when my phone rang yet again. I growled at the thing, pulled it free from my pocket. Danny Boy. The other calls were probably him, too. What had him so riled up he was calling me every couple minutes?
I turned my attention back to her. “No, no thank you. I should get going.” I turned to go. She called out after me. “Yeah?”
“Be careful, okay?”
I nodded. I walked away. When I was down on the ground, I pulled out my phone and called Danny Boy back. “What’s going on, man?”
“Googe. He… He… Oh, God,” Danny Boy said. His voice was choked, his words coming out slowly and strained.
“Googe? What about him?”
“Dead. He’s dead.”
I stopped in my tracks. I hadn’t known Googe very well. He was Danny Boy’s friend more than mine, but he was a a good guy. He was always cracking jokes and laughing and sometimes I found him a little insufferable sometimes, but he was a good guy. “What happened?”
“I, I, I went back to his place after I left yours. I was going to give him back the Yellows, and I went got there, he wasn’t answering his phone or his door. His door was unlocked, so I went in, and then I was calling out trying to find him, and finally I went into his bedroom, and he was dead, he was fucking dead, he fucking shot himself.”
I closed my eyes. “Jesus Christ.”
“There were bullet holes in the wall, man. You know that little revolver he has? There were four or five bullet holes in the wall, and then he was just lying in the corner, man. The gun on the ground and his fucking brains on the wall.”
I paused. What Danny Boy had just said had set me thinking. The sadness I felt at Googe’s passing was giving way to a cold analysis. “Bullet holes? Was he shooting at someone?”
“I don’t know, man! I don’t know!”
“Well, was there any blood?”
“There was blood everywhere, man!”
I took a deep breath, trying to control my temper. “On the wall, with the bullet holes. Or the ground. Did he shoot anyone other than himself?”
Danny Boy was silent. “No,” he finally said. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Alright, man. You’ve got to call the cops. Throw anything you’re holding in with Googe’s stash, call the cops, and wait outside for them. They’re going to want to question you, but they’re going to want to question you a hell of a lot more if they find out you were there and left.”
Danny Boy whimpered. “Man, can you come over here and help me talk to the cops. I don’t know what to say to them.”
I started walking again, walking towards my car. “You’ll be fine, man. I promise. I have something I need to take care of first, but I’m going to head over there as soon as I can.”
“Where are you going?” Danny Boy asked, his voice little more than a whine.
I opened the door to my car and slipped into the driver’s seat. I started the engine, looked at the road ahead of me as it stretched on into night. “I’ve got to take care of Rob.”
* * *
I stood in front of Rob’s house, the nearest street lamp too far to do any more than turn me into a shadow. There was no sign of Rob, no car in the driveway, no light or noise coming from the house. As I stood there in the darkness, I suddenly realized how tired I was. My body ached from my experiences at work earlier in the day, and dealing with Danny Boy and hearing about Googe had left me emotionally drained.
Not to mention talking to her.
I shook my head. It didn’t matter. On the drive over, I told myself that Googe was dead because of the things he’d seen when he was taking Yellows. I told myself I was going to kill Rob for the damage his pills had caused. But as I drove, I realized that I wouldn’t do that, couldn’t do that. There was no way I’d get away with it. I needed a different plan.
So instead I would burn his house to the ground. The fire department and the police would find equipment for making God only knows what and assume that he’d gotten careless and started the fire himself. Maybe he’d get caught in the fire himself. And even if he didn’t, there was no shortage of “business partners” who would come for him once their supplies dried up.
Remembering that the front door had been locked earlier, I stepped around the side of Rob’s house, hopped the fence and found myself in the backyard. Trash of all kinds littered the grounds. Plastic and styrofoam cups, glass bottles, glass pipes, tin foil, the accoutrements of ruined lives. I thought to myself, thank God no one’s home. It was impossible to be stealthy as plastic rustled and glass cracked underfoot.
A glass sliding door separated Rob’s backyard from the house. I gave it a tug and was surprised to find it sliding effortlessly and relatively quietly on its tracks. I stepped inside, the smell of the house assaulting my senses. The air reeked of chemicals I couldn’t identify, with dishes gone unwashed for weeks, with trash and old food and who knew what else. But underneath it all was the scent of sweat and vomit. Human misery. I stood there in silence for a moment, straining to hear the sounds of movement or activity, giving my eyes time to adjust to the darkness. At last, impatiently, I stepped forward.
The house was quiet. As still as a grave.
I walked towards the bedrooms, stopped at the first door, and slowly opened it. Nothing inside but equipment I didn’t understand. I squinted, trying to focus in the dim streetlight eking through a window that had been mostly covered up with blankets and sheets. There was a desk, with books strewn across it. Something that looked like an industrial pill press. Vials and beakers. I turned to inspect the other room.
A figure grabbed me by the neck, its thin fingers squeezing, digging into my throat. “Rob!” I choked out. I flailed wildy, striking my assailant wherever I could, the face, the ribs, the stomach, but it ignored my attacks. There was a sharp pain in my side, and then the world went black, like snuffed candlelight.