Excerpt | Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky
Wednesday, August 31
I wake up looking down at my body, naked on a gurney at the morgue.
That’s a memory.
This has happened to me before.
I was riding my bike, working a case, high as a meteorite that doesn’t yet know it’s about to crash and burn, still happily tooling along in space, at night, wrapped in a warm blanket of summer air, Jack Daniels, and a smidgen of heroin. Some creep shot me in the temple, and I woke up hovering above my own corpse.
This time is different.
Not a gurney. Not the morgue.
A bed. My body, eyes closed, on a bed. I’ve got a bird’s-eye view, hovering like a kite, still tethered, but barely, by an invisible string.
Let’s get clear on my condition. I don’t know what it is, but I know what it is not. I am not a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghost. I’m not a thousand years old, I have no superpowers, and I’ve never been a hero. What I do have is a broken life, a broken family, and, so far, an inexplicable inoculation against dying. And a daughter I would die for—or, in this case, return to life for.
The tether reels me in. I descend toward the body, a mirror image to it, my arms at my sides, my feet slightly apart. Three bullet holes in my face—and one in my gut—are going to need some repair. At contact, I am absorbed and no longer looking down at myself but looking up at the ceiling.
I stretch my fingers, curl them into fists, and stretch them again.
“Jesus holy fucking Christ!”
I know that voice.
I turn my head. It’s awkward, after the lightness of floating, to be in the body, to know its heaviness and vulnerability. There’s a man sitting in a chair next to the bed. He’s a cop, and the first thing I think is: He knows my secret. Now he really knows it. But it’s okay, because he’s also my friend and I trust him. I have to.
“Hey, Dave, how’s it going?” My voice sounds artificial—a forced process of pushing air, modulating vibrations with my vocal cords, shaping syllables with my mouth and tongue. I make my lips grin.
Dave sits there like a stuffed panda in his rumpled white shirt and cheap black sports coat. There’s blood on his clothes. It’s in his fingernails—my blood, dried and caked on his hands. His right hand is clasped around a Heineken, which he finally tilts to his mouth and drains.
I force the body up and into a sitting position, feet on the floor. I flex my fingers a few more times, roll my shoulders, and look at Dave. For a moment, I close my eyes and leave the body, just as an experiment, and roam around the room. From over Dave’s shoulder I watch it slump back into the pillows like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Dave stands and moves toward the bed, but I slip back into the body and work my mouth and tell him it’s okay.
I sit back up and ask Dave, “Why am I naked?”
“Because you were shot full of holes and clinically dead. I brought you back to my place and cleaned you up. I took off your clothes to see how many more bullets there might be in you. Your things are right over there.” He points to a chair in the corner.
“You’re taking this pretty well.”
He shrugs. “I feel like I’m in a bad movie, but hey . . .”
“I appreciate your bringing me here.”
“I knew if I called the paramedics you’d have been sliced and diced at the coroner’s.”
“How long have I been here?”
Dave looks at his watch. “It’s noon. Call it thirty-six hours.”
“What day is it? And date?”
“Wednesday. Last day in August.”
I stand and walk to the chair to get dressed. Roaming—moving freely out of the body—is easier than this, but I’ll adjust. I have before. The gorilla-suit quality of living in the body becomes commonplace, the intentional management of operating the system, beating the heart, making the blood run in the veins, the conscious act of breathing: all of it becomes second nature.
It’s almost like being alive.
Wednesday, August 31
Dave Putnam had been a cop for over thirty years, but nothing had prepared him for the last thirty-six hours.
The whole fiasco had started with Charlie Miner, whom he had known and even occasionally worked with over the years, calling him and asking for a favor. Offering him a deal. Twisting his arm a bit with a preposterous story, telling him he’d prove it and that Dave could take several murders off the books. Celebrities. Big money. An investment scam.
And, against his better judgment, Dave had gone along. Two days ago, he had transported Charlie’s daughter over the border from Tijuana—the favor—and that night met Charlie at a restaurant to hear him pitch his case. Later, when he got Charlie’s text, he went to the agreed-upon location to back Charlie’s play and round up the perpetrators.
In the meantime, he’d had a few too many. It made him sloppy, and it made him late. So, instead of calling for backup and showing up fresh and ready, he played cowboy. He took his biggest gun, an unregistered Desert Eagle .50 caliber that his father had given him, out of his trunk and left the restaurant parking lot with the gun on the passenger seat, squinting out at the road and concentrating on staying in his lane.
He got lost in Santa Monica Canyon and had to backtrack to the Coast Highway and try again. This time he wound up on Amalfi Drive, heading up toward Pacific Palisades. The frustration called for a hit off the pint he kept under the seat.
When he finally got to the site, he came around the side of the house and saw a man with a silenced gun standing over two bodies. One of them was Charlie Miner’s. When he saw the silencer swing up to point at him, Dave fired. The bullet blew the man into a hole that had clearly just been dug in the yard. The noise was ridiculous, but it clarified the situation: Dave hoisted Charlie’s body over his shoulder and started back toward his car. As an afterthought, he went back and picked up one of several SentrySafe H2300 cases nestled in the dirt.
Now he was sitting in his apartment, watching Charlie Miner’s corpse, studying it as if for a clue, an answer, perhaps, to the mystery of why he, Dave, had behaved so badly. Leaving the scene of an officer-involved shooting. Stealing from a crime scene. Hiding a body.
The first two he could justify: he was tanked, and the case he took out of the ground just looked interesting.
But taking Charlie Miner’s body, with three bloody holes in its face, and dumping it in the back seat of his car, and then driving home and carrying it to his apartment—there was no explaining that.
Except . . .
Dave had known there was something off about Charlie. Not just off, but weird. More than weird—inexplicable. Dave had dug up morgue photos of an unidentified DOA, gunshot wounds, that had somehow disappeared. And though he had denied it, Charlie Miner was the guy in the photos.
And so the vigil. Turn the phone ringer off. Stick to beer. Wash the blood off Charlie’s face. Watch the body. Nod off now and then.
Watch the body.
It happened at noon. He was about to doze when he saw a finger twitch. Then the fingers on both hands flexed, curled into fists, and flexed again.
Wednesday, August 31
I seem to have a bad case of Swiss-cheese brain, with more holes than cheese.
A blood-soaked washcloth and towel lie in Dave’s bath tub. The mirror above his sink reveals three entry wounds, clean and neat and round, except for little flaps of skin.
The first hole is in the middle of my forehead. If it were any bigger, I could put a glass eye in it and join the circus. But then, I’m already a freak; better to keep it on the down low.
The next two are on the right side of my face, one just next to my nose and the other about an inch from the corner of my eye.
I feel around in back to find the exit wounds. There’s only one, so I guess there’s lead in my head. Again. Plus the bullet in my abdomen.
The gun that shot me belonged to a man named Alan Hunter. It had a silencer and was probably a small-caliber automatic. Two hundred feet per second is the minimum velocity required to penetrate bone. Some silencers tend to reduce gunpowder gas pressure as the bullet passes the ports in the barrel, thus inhibiting velocity. It could have been worse.
I’ve got some work to do.
I stare into my eyes in the mirror. The iris is a portal. There’s a path that leads through the pupil and down the optic nerve to the visual cortex, the gateway to the brain. I lean against the sink and lean my forehead against the mirror to prop up my body so it won’t collapse when I disengage from it.
I leave the body and enter the bullet hole in my forehead. I’m in a glistening wet tunnel of grayish-white paste flecked with bone fragments and dried blood. The paste is like wet cardboard. A dim blue light gives it all a ghostly appearance.
A voice tells me what to do, feeding me instructions about progenitors, directed tissue migration, mTOR pathways, PTEN inhibitors, growth factors, and cytokines, as if reading from a textbook. An assembly line of healthy new cells made from stem cells provides building blocks: oligodendrocytes, microglia, and astrocytes, and then there are neurons to be connected, synapse by synapse. How do I know all this? Whose voice is directing me? I’m like a millipede with a thousand hands, building and repairing as I move through the frontal lobe and into the ruined corpus callosum and finally the occipital lobe: remove, flush, assemble, and repeat, until I reach the exit wound. Repair meninges, bone, and skin, and move on to the next bullet hole. I finish up with the one in my gut.
The voice informs me that all systems are intact. I roam to the bathroom ceiling and look down at my body slumped against the sink, then return to it and push myself to a standing position. I look pretty good. There are still a couple of slugs in there, but Dave is pounding on the door, and it’s time to get moving.
Monday, October 31, night
Time passes in a dream. My phone tells me it’s the thirty-first of October. In the two months since I was resurrected in Dave’s apartment, the weather has gone from sunny and hot to an unusual California chill, and my mind has gone in and out of functioning mode. Sometimes I sit and stare at a wall and see nothing but a gray fog. Lifting a hand to my face to scratch an itch or bat away an insect takes too much effort. Other times I see into the wall, into the atoms and the blur of their electron shells and the enormous space within; I see galaxies receding, and I sense the end of time approaching. And, with gradually increasing frequency, I’m back in the world, brushing my teeth, making omelets for my daughter Mindy and myself, trying to pick up the pieces of my life.
The pieces of my life:
I own a blackened patch of land where my house used to be in Mar Vista, just off Venice Boulevard.
I have a teenage daughter and an ex-wife who will kill each other if I don’t keep them apart. Allison was the love of my life until I squandered it all for opiates. What’s left is a toxic stew of divorce, recriminations, and custody battles. Thank God I’ve still got Mindy.
I have a friend Jimmy, who used to be my heroin dealer and is now recovering from his own bullet wounds, although in the traditional manner, under a doctor’s care.
I am the proud owner of two million dollars’ worth of gold bars, although selling them will be tricky and laundering the cash even trickier. Jimmy’s working on it.
Then there’s the matter of Daniel, who visited me the other day.
The memories arise, like bubbles from the depths of a swamp, then disappear or merge with other memories and make a new kind of sense, or no sense, and I have trouble with time: good times, bad times, future times, past times—
Two months ago:
Wednesday, August 31
Dave Putnam is a hell of a writer. He’s a cop, but he’s a scribbler at heart. He types like Herbie Hancock plays the piano. Voices emerge, characters, madness; epic stories get banged out on his worn laptop. Dave’s seen it all. He’s got tales to tell.
He stares at me as I come out of his bathroom, eyes popping as he registers my newly repaired face.
“I don’t know if I could even make sense of this in a story,” he says.
“Who would read it?”
“Beats me. Maybe there’s some hybrid reader geek out there—like a mix between a Stephen King fan and an Elmore Leonard fan.”
“You think it’d be hard to write?”
I tell him, “Try living it.” And, of course, there’s that word: Living.
Dave’s place is in Culver City. My fifteen-year-old daughter, Mindy, has been holed up in an apartment in Venice. The creep who shot me the first time lived there with his halfwit brute of a roommate until we had an encounter in a cave in the mountains near Ensenada. They’re still in the cave.
We leave Dave’s. The blazing sun and the desert winds put a hot crackle in the air. My phone is full of desperate texts and voicemail from Mindy. Dave is driving, heading west on Washington Boulevard. I hit Mindy’s number on speed dial.
“Dad! Tell me it’s you.”
“Yes. Where are you? We’re coming to get you.”
“I’m home. I mean the apartment. Where have you been? Who’s ‘we’? Oh my God, Dad . . .” She’s sobbing, and I’m staring out the window at the shabby storefronts and the world is golden because I have Mindy to come home to.
When she was young, and I still had a family, we would make up stories together at bedtime. A mythical creature called a greyborg would transport her through the tunnel of sleep to the land of dreams, where she could fly, solve mysteries, and slay dragons. Years later, even in my darkest times, we would joke about the greyborg.
Now she’s almost sixteen, a walking canvas of fantastical images, with crazy hair and a lopsided smile and a fundamental goodness that makes me grateful every time I see her.
Dave and I pull up to the Flora, a run-down, two-story stucco box on a tired little street in the Oakwood section of Venice, where gentrification hasn’t yet pushed out the poor and the barely-hanging-on working class. The broken gate scrapes concrete as I push it open, triggering a ferocious snarling and clattering of nails against the door of the left front unit and explosive staccato barking from the right.
Dave yells at me from his car. “You gonna be all right?”
I don’t even know what that means. But Mindy’ll be there, so there’s hope.
Wednesday, August 31
Dave watched Charlie Miner go up the dilapidated stairs of the crummy building, wondering how much of his worldview would have to change to accommodate what he had seen over the past few days. Although, earlier events—involving a series of cases—had already put a large crack in his certainty about life being rational.
As he drove toward work, his mind shifted to the crime scene in Santa Monica Canyon.
The good news was that he had managed to get to his car and out of the neighborhood unnoticed. The bad news was that there was a .50 caliber bullet in a dead body, and no gun to match. Okay, so he’d have to ditch the gun. He could get an easy grand for it, but then it could bounce back on him if some idiot got caught with it and rolled over. And, given what he’d found when he broke open the SentrySafe case he had found, sacrificing the Desert Eagle was the way to go. Besides, he still had his standard issue 9 mm and a backup.
The case had been surprisingly heavy when he pulled it out of the ground. There were several of them in the hole. He was already carrying Charlie’s body and almost said fuck it, but grabbed it on a hunch. Three people were dead, and Dave wanted to know why. Sometime during his vigil over Charlie’s body, he had jimmied the lock on the case and pried open the lid. Nestled in black foam like expensive camera equipment were two bricks, each with a stamp that said 999.9 Fine Gold.
So, dump the gun. Lie low on the gold. Do some footwork on how to get cash for it without drawing any attention. Meanwhile, it was time to let Charlie Miner put his life—or whatever it was—back together. Dave was still a cop, and it was time to see what the job had in store for him.