The sign for Pillar’s Bar came up on the left, and I slowed, memory abruptly flickering. That’s where I was the other night. I’d gone there with Randy, right? Maybe I left my purse there. I’d just quit my job at Bayou Burger ’cause some lady tried to tell me we’d made her stupid burger wrong and that we had to give her another one. Except she’d already eaten most of the first one so I told her No, and then my boss jumped my ass because the “customer is always right” or some bullshit like that. I’d been in a shit mood after quitting, so I downed a Lortab before going to the bar, and after we got there I went out back and smoked some pot with Terry, the bartender. Randy was doing something to piss me off, so I traded Terry a couple of joints for a couple of Percocet. After that the memory was a lot foggier. . . .
My mood dimmed. I sure as shit didn’t get this job as a van driver because I deserved it. I got it because I nearly overdosed and now someone was trying to teach me a lesson.
Yeah, yeah, the value of life. Just Say No. Whatever.
I didn’t really know what had happened between going to the bar with Randy and ending up naked on the side of the highway, but I had a feeling it hadn’t been pretty. Probably a good thing I don’t remember it, I thought with a sour grimace.
There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot. Another hour or so and it would start filling up with all the people who had shit lives and shit jobs—or no jobs—and who wanted to forget about all that before heading to whatever passed for home. Still, even a couple of cars was too many people for me to face without knowing just how much of an ass I’d made of myself the other night. I kept driving past and simply called the bar instead to see if anyone had seen my purse. No one had turned it in, so either I hadn’t left it there or someone had walked off with it.
I hung up, annoyed, then called Randy. I didn’t really want to go home. Home was where I slept and showered. I didn’t want to hang out there. But Randy wasn’t picking up, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.
I need a life, I sighed.
As I turned into my driveway the crunch of aluminum greeted me—a few hundred beer cans that had been tossed into the driveway over the past several years and which now served as the paving material. Dad used to make the crack that it was cheaper than gravel. His truck was here—a piece of shit Ford that was more bondo than paint—but I didn’t see any fresh empties in the driveway.
However, as I walked up to the house I did see my purse, right in the middle of the porch steps.
I picked it up, mystified. I was certain it hadn’t been here earlier. There was no way I could have missed it, even in my panicked rush this morning. Rifling through quickly, I saw that everything was still there—driver’s license, debit card, and even the thirty-three dollars in cash that I’d stuffed into my wallet before going to the bar.
“Ain’t that some shit,” I murmured. My address was on my license so there wasn’t much mystery of how it had ended up here. I still didn’t know where I’d managed to lose my purse, but at least it had been found by someone honest. More honest than me, I had to admit. I might have made an effort to return the purse, but I would have totally taken the thirty-three dollars.
I guess I was lucky there were people better than me in this world. Not that it took a whole lot to accomplish that.
I swept my gaze around, on the off chance our closest neighbor was outside and had maybe seen something. We lived right off the highway on a mile-long dead end street that had less than a dozen houses along its pothole ridden length. Most of the neighbors couldn’t be seen through the pines from our front porch, but the house across the street was in plain sight. And excellent hearing distance too, to judge by the number of times they’d called the cops on us over the years. Complaints about everything from loud music to the trash in our yard to the occasional yelling matches that my dad and I got into.
Assholes. Then again, maybe I didn’t give that much of a fuck who’d returned my purse.
Dad wasn’t in what passed for our living room. It held a couch and a TV—both of which were almost as old as I was—but it stank of stale beer and cigarettes. I didn’t spend any time in there if I could help it, though that was probably more due to the fact that my dad spent most of his time there than because of the way it smelled.
I cautiously peeked through the open door to his bedroom, relieved to see that he was asleep. Passed out, more likely, to judge by the empty beer cans on the nightstand and the bottle of Jack Daniels out in the kitchen. I stood there for a few seconds to make sure his chest was actually going up and down and decided against going in and tugging the blanket over him. More chance that he’d wake up from the movement of the blanket than from being cold. And we got along a lot better when he was like this.
I turned away, headed to the kitchen, found a package of macaroni and cheese and a clean bowl. I thought briefly about watching some TV while I ate, maybe smoke a joint, but decided I didn’t want to risk waking my dad up with either. Instead I scarfed down the mac and cheese, dumped the bowl into the sink with the other dirty dishes and headed to the bathroom to take the epic shower I’d promised myself earlier. It ended up only being a few minutes of “epic-ness” thanks to our ancient water heater, but it was enough to get me feeling less gross.
Toweling my hair dry, I headed to my room and glanced at the clock. It wasn’t even six P.M. yet, but I wanted to get to bed nice and early. I sure as shit didn’t want to oversleep again. I got down on my hands and knees and reached up under my bed, feeling for the pill bottle wedged between the springs. I pulled it out, pried the top off, shook a bunch of pills out into my hand. There were six or seven different kinds, but I knew them well enough that I didn’t need them to be in separate, labeled prescription bottles. Good thing, since I didn’t have prescriptions for any of them.
Resisting the urge to snag the Vicodin out, I settled for a Xanax instead. I only had the one Vicodin, and there was no sense wasting it when all I really wanted was some help getting to sleep. I returned the other pills back to the bottle, replaced it in its hiding spot, and washed the Xanax down with a beer from the mini-fridge in my room.
Flipping off the lights, I crawled under my blankets and waited for the lovely wave of relaxation to wash over me.
Twenty minutes later I was still wide awake.
By six-thirty I was forced to admit that whatever I’d taken must not have been Xanax.
I scowled into the darkness. Well, this sucked. Since I didn’t know what the hell I had taken, I didn’t dare try to see if something else would do the trick. I’d hit my OD quota for the month already, thank you.
I stubbornly stayed in bed. At some point after eight I finally fell asleep, still waiting for the Xanax to kick in.
Despite the failure of Xanax, I managed to get a good night’s sleep, and actually got out of bed when my alarm went off. As soon as I made it in to work, my training began in earnest. Nick was an obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive jerk with no social skills, but he took his job damn seriously and was hell bent on making sure I was totally prepared for anything. For the rest of the week I was drilled, instructed, trained, and learned to fucking death, but I gritted my teeth, managed to keep from bitch-slapping Nick, and actually got the hang of the whole thing faster than I ever expected. It helped that there wasn’t much about the job that was particularly difficult or complicated. The van drivers were also called bodysnatchers, and that’s basically what our job was: Go to the death scene, grab the dead person, stuff’em into a body bag. And if there were ever any doubts or questions, the investigator was there to clear things up.
I’d braced myself for all sorts of gross or weird stuff when it came to the dead people. Rotten bodies, bizarre suicides, that sort of thing. I was ready for it. I was determined not to freak out, no matter what.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the cops.
Cops everywhere, and me trying to keep from looking all guilty and spastic every time one happened to glance my way. I kept having to remind myself I wasn’t in trouble, wasn’t being hassled—I had no reason to instantly get all defensive. And for the most part the cops and detectives ignored me, or at least didn’t give me anything more than the grunt and nod that they gave various other non-cop types who happened to be on the scene.
I’d been on the job for a whole four days before I managed to run into the two detectives who knew exactly what kind of loser I was.
It was Detective Abadie who recognized me first. We were in the front yard of a two-story house in a nice-as-hell gated subdivision. The overweight and out of shape guy who owned the house had apparently decided that having a half-million dollar house meant that he couldn’t afford to hire someone to clean out his gutters. Now he was dead with what looked to me like a broken neck after the ladder had slipped. He’d taken the plunge into his fancy landscaping—complete with rock garden. But hey, his fucking gutters were clean.
Abadie’s dark eyes scanned the area, skimmed across me and then came back, narrowing. He took in the insignia on my shirt—his mouth pursing as if he’d eaten something bitter. Meanwhile I pretended to be focusing on something intensely interesting near the body so that I didn’t have to meet his gaze. But I could still see him nudge Detective Roth and whisper something. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out the general gist of what he was saying. The burly detective turned around, but to my surprise a smile spread across his face, and he lifted his hand in a wave. I couldn’t really pretend I didn’t see it, and it would’ve probably been horrible and rude to ignore it, so I gave him an awkward and hesitant wave back, hoping that it wasn’t one of those cases where he was actually smiling and waving to someone behind me.
Abadie shook his head and stalked off toward his car with the same expression on his face that Allen Prejean had worn—contempt mixed with a healthy dollop of disgust, and a side of disbelief for good measure.
Roth watched him walk off, then looked back to me and gave me a shrug and a smile before returning to his work. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, tugged a hand through my hair to cover the fact that I was shaking a little. Okay, so Abadie thinks I’m lower than dirt, but Roth seems all right. And the other cops are all pretty much ignoring me.