Authors: JP Bloch
Copyright ©2014 JP Bloch
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted by any means—electronic, mechanical, photographic (photocopying), recording, or otherwise—without prior permission in writing from the author.
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States by Bacon Press Books, Washington, DC
Editor and Copyeditor: Lorraine Fico-White
Cover Design: Alan Pranke
Cover Photo: WiseWanderer
Book Layout and Design: Lorie DeWorken
Author Photo: Tristan Robin Blakeman
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014947952
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To Tristan, with love
Call Received at 4
“911 Emergency. How may I assist you?”
“There’s blood everywhere. Naked and so much blood. Dead.”
“Sir, who is dead?”
“I . . . I never wanted this to happen.”
“Sir, please stop crying. I need to know what happened.”
“Oh God, oh God . . . Christ, please, hurry!”
“Sir, is this person breathing?”
“It’s not just one—I mean, yes. I don’t know. Just get an ambulance.”
“Where are you now?”
“I’m home, damn it. In my bedroom.”
“Do you know this person?”
“I told you, it’s not just one person. Why can’t you listen? Can’t you send an ambulance?”
“Sir, I need an address.”
“I’m in the Paradise Cul-de-sac, Number 11. I’m . . . I’m Dr. Jesse Falcon.”
“Sir, if you are a doctor, you should be able to—”
“I’m not that kind of doctor, you dumb shit. I’m a—I’m a psychologist.”
“Sir, please calm down. An ambulance is on its way.”
“No . . . Please, no more.”
“Sir, please explain what is happening . . . Sir, are you there?”
’M A NICE GUY.
Everyone would tell you I am. In fact, they might say I’m the nicest guy they’ve ever known. I was vice president of my senior class in high school, and the only reason I didn’t run for president was to let a girl in a wheelchair win. At college, three different fraternities invited me to pledge. Junior year, I married my pregnant girlfriend even though I wasn’t sure I was the father. Everyone said I should do a paternity test, but I truly believed all that crap about what difference did a drop of sperm make, and a real man did what had to be done.
It was as if I thought I’d get a medal for totally fucking up my life.
I even changed my major from psychology (which I loved) to computer science (which I hated) and decided to forego grad school to support my wife and kid. I always sent my mom a Mother’s Day card, even when she called my wife a fuck whore—I guess as opposed to whores who get paid to read aloud from the
. But then, dear old Mom never put logic above making her point. I always voted, I recycled, and I never ran a red light.
Yeah, that was me. Mr. Nobody, like something you’d scrape off your shoe without a second thought. The perennial best supporting actor. How I felt or what I wanted made no difference to anyone.
Or at least not until now.
The thing is, I have an addiction. I realize that sounds totally lame, like I’m making excuses for myself. Yet, I swear it’s the truth. After a while, I couldn’t stop. Of course, there are no support groups like AA for people like me. Besides, what would they call us? Identity Thieves Anonymous? It cracks me up just to think about it. I’d be in this roomful of people addicted to stealing other people’s identities, but everyone would be on a first-name basis only, so that our identities were protected . . . only which identities? Still, I imagine there’d be varieties of addiction, just like drugs or alcohol. Internet versus credit card identity theft. Using an assortment of aliases versus sticking to only one name. If heroin is the worst drug addiction, stealing the name of just one living person is the worst kind of identity theft. Trust me, it’s the most damage you can do—to the victim, to yourself, to everyone. I’m the worst kind of addict. I am the junkie of identity thieves. Sometimes I actually forget I’m not Dr. Jesse Falcon. I’m sure that’s a bad sign, too. Even I don’t know who I am.
But you know? They say addicts are always blaming their problems on other people instead of taking responsibility for their own mistakes. Well, let me tell you what happened. You decide if it was my fault.
Maybe my wife—deceptively named Betsy, which suggests a much nicer girl—never would’ve left me if the company I worked for, 21st Century Solutions, hadn’t gone belly up. A hundred people went to work one day, only to be told they had an hour to pack up and leave, as if they’d done something wrong. I suppose, though, that the higher-ups had to do it like that, to avoid all kinds of embarrassing crying and shouting and begging and threats.
Anyway, 21st Century Solutions didn’t have many solutions up its sleeve after all because there I was, out of work with two weeks’ severance pay. My official title had been Support Resources Director, though it would be impossible to explain what I did. Not that anyone would’ve wanted to know. It’s not like kids say, “When I grow up, I want to be a support resources director.” In her dismissive way, Betsy told people I did “computer shit.” But I worked my ass off for seven years. I stayed late, I skipped lunch, I worked on weekends, and never took a single sick day.
Yet no matter how many raises I got, my entire paycheck was spent, courtesy of Betsy. There were even a few scary times when we had to empty our pockets and look behind the sofa to put together change for groceries or gas. Beneath the veneer of suburban success, I never stopped panicking over money. The mortgage had been refinanced three times to get cash back to cover credit cards and bills, which had a way of sneaking back, out of control all over again. At champagne cocktail brunches, I’d smile in affinity when people went on about their diversified portfolios or their rollovers, but I only had a vague sense of what they were talking about. I had a two-car garage, mock-Tudor home, yet I lived one paycheck away from homelessness. The only good thing about it was that when other people’s investments went down the crapper, I had nothing to lose.
Betsy called herself a stay-at-home mom, which meant she sat around drinking Diet Pepsi while ordering cutesy stuffed animals and fake diamond pins from home shopping networks. Her inertia was such that she must’ve believed she climbed Mount Everest every time her index finger hit redial on her cell phone. She also made frequent use of her middle finger, which over the years was increasingly extended at me.
In the first couple of years, Betsy helped me change an occasional diaper, and eventually I found out she secretly paid someone to clean the house—but at least it
cleaned. Still, our son, Scotty, didn’t get the attention he deserved from either of us. Me, because I was always at work, and Betsy, because when she wasn’t ordering from QVC, she was fucking her old college boyfriend, Biff. To complete the pathetic little talk show extravaganza, naturally Biff had been my best friend since childhood, and everyone knew about the sleazy affair except me. But then, I’d always been utterly disposable, like a used condom or last year’s cell phone.
When I wasn’t helping Betsy to live out her days before the TV set, I was bailing Biff out of one jam or another. In fact, the night before my wedding, Biff got stinking drunk and puked all over my mother’s favorite chair at two in the morning, and though I was pretty wobbly myself, I painstakingly cleaned up after him. I even gave him my bed while I slept on the floor.
At breakfast the next day, Biff said, “You’re the greatest guy in the world.”
Well, little did the greatest guy in the world know it, but twenty minutes before exchanging vows, Betsy was with Biff in the church rectory, and they were going at it like bunnies. I didn’t find out, though, until a fateful night seven years later, when my unemployment ran out and I still couldn’t find a job. Betsy decided this was the ideal time to destroy what remnants of a life I had left. And the rectory quickie wasn’t even the worst of it.
“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” Betsy bitched. She dyed her hair a shade called “Dry Martini,” and she seethed as she brushed her bleached electric frizz before her Thomasville dresser mirror, as if even the tangles in her hair were my fault. “To
.” Her own reflection was like a third person in the room, goading her on.
“What do you mean, ‘
’?” I said. “Don’t you mean to us?
the one who can’t find a job. Betsy, I’m scared. We’re down to nothing. Zero. Zilch. I can’t even use Visa to pay off MasterCard. The mortgage is overdue. The only thing left is Scotty’s miniscule college fund, and I always swore I’d never—”
“Scotty!” She all but spat out the name, as if it were a curse word. “What makes you think he’s your stupid asshole son anyway? He looks
like Biff, in case you hadn’t noticed. God, how people have made fun of you behind your back. We even fucked in the rectory twenty minutes before I married you.”
I stared at her, unable to speak. I couldn’t decide where to begin—that I was just told my son wasn’t mine, that he was fathered by my so-called best friend, that Betsy had lied to me all these years, or that she told me in such a cruel way. And it was already the lowest point in my life.
Betsy glared at me. “Biff’s never been much good. He’s great in the sack, but that’s about it. Christ, he still lives with Mommy and Daddy. Did you know he almost had to go on
? Some bimbo gave him all her money. Daddy, as always, came to his rescue.”
“Thank God Biff’s all right,” I managed to say. I was hurt and angry in the way that makes you grasp at anything to comment on, no matter how irrelevant to the main point.
Betsy absently studied her face in the mirror, turning from side to side and changing her expression, as people in love with their faces often do. “I didn’t feel one bit bad lying to your sanctimonious face. You, Mr. Psych Major, should’ve added two and two. You were
the month I got pregnant, remember?”
“Yes. I suppose that’s true. My father was dying, so I came home to be with my mom.”
“Whatever. The thing was, I knew perfectly well that Biff had as much husband potential as a skunk. You—you were the good one, the responsible one, the one who would live up to your responsibilities.”
“Even though they weren’t mine?”
She turned to face me. “You know what I mean. And surely you
all along. On some level. Even you aren’t that dumb.”
“I—I decided a long time ago it didn’t matter.”
“Oh, it matters. Because Biff’s moving in, and you, my fine fellow, are moving out.”
I was stone cold sober, yet I felt the way people have described being on something like LSD. All I could see was this glaring red everythingness before me that seemed to wobble and spin. I didn’t know such rage was possible.
I grabbed Betsy’s arm; her hairbrush fell to the floor.
“Go on, kill me,” she whispered. “Rot in jail for the rest of your stupid life.”
My hands shook while she stared into my eyes, never even blinking. She ran her tongue along her upper lip, as if savoring something delicious. It occurred to me that Betsy really was crazy. Her father was a cop who shot himself through the head, and she hated her mother for being what she called mean. So Betsy decided the best way to deal with her unhappy childhood was to destroy other people.
I somehow got past the image of choking her and set my hands down. Looking back, I know Betsy was right. The only reason I
kill her was because I didn’t want to go to jail. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. One guy does the right thing, while this other guy calls the first guy a chicken shit for not doing the wrong thing that I wanted to do instead. It’s as if I know in my bones that the wrong thing is really the right thing, and I’ll never be happy until I do what this other part of me wants me to do. Even if I end up in prison or a nut house, I’ll finally feel satisfied. The right guy had always been stronger and kept the wrong guy in his place. Yet I hated the right guy and loved the wrong guy.
Yeah, I admit it. I’m not holier than thou. I probably wanted to kill Betsy a million different times. Or Biff, for that matter.
I sat on the edge of the king-size bed, turning toward the wall. I couldn’t even look at Betsy. I resisted the urge to rip apart the stupid stuffed animals on the bed—especially this pink hippopotamus with girly eyelashes. I didn’t want to give Betsy the satisfaction. Instead I bit my own knuckles until I drew blood.
“We have Biff’s daddy to thank once again. He gave Biff some trust fund thingamabob. It’s kind of funny, if you think about it. His parents wanted him to move out for years, and they finally figured out the way to get Biff to do
is to give him money. I mean, like, duh.” She rubbed a sweet-smelling lotion into her hands, a nightly ritual that always seemed to take forever. “Not to worry, the bills will be covered.”
“If you and Biff—I mean, when you and Biff lose the mortgage, don’t come running to me. And I still want to see Scotty. I
see Scotty.” Damn it, there was a big gloppy tear running down my face, just when I needed to be strong. I shook it away in annoyance.
“Oh, as far as Scotty is concerned, you’re still his dad. For now, anyway.”
It was amazing how effortlessly Betsy issued threats. Keep supporting the kid, or else he’d be told Biff was his father, which among many other things would traumatize Scotty for life. Not only to know a different man was his father, but that the man was Biff—whom Scotty, with a childlike clarity that adults underestimate, never liked.
Don’t ask me why, but Betsy and I made love that night. Twice, in fact, and the second time was even better. In the stale nothingness of early morning, with Betsy moaning through some ecstatic dream—about Biff, no doubt—I quickly packed a suitcase, scooped up my laptop, and threw on some clothes. In the mirror, I noticed I had a purple hickey on my neck, my last memento from Betsy. I touched it in a brief flicker of nostalgia.
My first impulse was not to say good-bye to Scotty for now. Not just because of how painful it would be but because I had no idea what to tell him.
Yet I knew I had to see him. I slipped off my shoes and padded quietly to his room. Though I felt guilty about not spending more time with him, Scotty was proving to be an extremely self-reliant child who kept himself entertained through his own imagination. This, no doubt, had to do with his intelligence, which was off the charts. Not yet eight, Scotty was tackling children’s books meant for ten- or twelve-year-olds. He also could win video games in less time than it took poor old Dad to get even one level higher. Scotty loved baseball, and he wanted to do a science project on the velocity of an inside curve versus an outside curve.