John Shirley - Wetbones

BOOK: John Shirley - Wetbones
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John Shirley




"John Shirley is an adventurer, returning from dark and troubled regions with visionary tales to tell.
is a wild and giddy ride, confronting the reader with marvels and horror in equal measure. I heartily recommend a journey with John Shirley at your side."
Clive Barker

"John Shirley is the possessor of an imagination like a ticker tape machine from Gehenna. Strongly recommended."
American Book Review

"Sizzling, superb writing that makes the most of the riffs the author executes. Hear the music for yourself. Read it!"

"The book has a cast of characters and a set of interesting plotlines that would do credit to any bestseller. Shirley's tapestry is tightly knotted and leaps to livid, vivid life from the first scene. The author does a bravura job of peeling away the plot like layers of an onion. Utterly convincing and terrifically fascinating.
is a knock-down, kick-ass piece of writing."
Ed Bryant,

"Potent, bizarre, full of raw energy . . . It's a good thing John Shirley is a writer. If he wasn't, he'd probably have to become a particularly inventive serial murderer to grab our attention the way he does. Four stars!"
Inside Books

"Pleasure is the optimum word when you're reading
because every page offers the writer at his best, his most personal."
San Francisco Chronicle

He felt like crying, but he was incapable of it. It would take too much strength to cry. He took a deep breath. Told himself, it's okay, it's all right.

He sniffed the air. There was a cloying smell; a rotting flower stink. As if the rosebuds in the wallpaper were rotting.

There was alsosomehow a function of the cloying stink of rotting petalslaughter, from somewhere; sticky, shriveled laughter, and foreign-sounding music, sort of Arab and sort of Oriental and sort of American. Played on what sounded like a malfunctioning stereo.

The noise came through the room's single window. A big bay window all veiny with shadows and fragmented with light. It made him think of a biology class where he'd dissected a lizard and the teacher had him hold its bellyskin up to the light and you could see all the veins picked out in a rosy glow. . . .

Roses. Big fat ones, he saw, as he hobbled up to the window. He'd never seen roses this big before. And the veiny shadows were made by thick rose vines, some as big around as his wrist, and all dinosaur-spiny with large thorns.

The window was nailed shut.


June 1999

Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
276 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10001

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

Copyright © 1993 by John Shirley

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

ISBN 0-8439-4525-7

The name "Leisure Books" and the stylized "L" with design are trademarks of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

Printed in the United States of America.

For Micky Perry, who qualifies for the following job
Excellent Wife (not experienced but willing to
learnand to teach)
Patient and Affectionate Editor (experienced and
Beacon of Faith (patience a plus)
She's hired. Position is permanent, retirement plan included.

The author wishes to thank . . .
Mark Ziesing for his patience and supportiveness
Nancy Collins for her Sympathy for the Devil
Bob Frazier for his exacting implementation of my edits
sorry for the headaches
Micky Perry again for her editorial help
Julian for restoring some of my innocence

You can rot here without feeling it.
John Rechy, on Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

They slid her body out in a long aluminium drawer on small, well-oiled rollers in a room that was sterile and cold, so cold he could see his breath: a little cloud steaming out over her, dissipating, pluming again, vanishing.

She was under a plastic wrapper, like something in a supermarket meat department. The morgue orderly peeled the plastic wrapper back so Prentice could see her face; her torso down to the sternum. Blue gray. Wasted. That's the word the doctor had used. The
of her.

She looks like a fucking mummy, Prentice thought.

Less than a day dead and she looked like a mummy, gray skin clinging to her skull, sharply outlining her jawbone, her collarbone, her ribs. Her eyes - it was as if someone had plucked out her eyes and replaced them with peeled grapes. Lips skinned back, flat and blue, as if painted on, exposing her teeth in a grimace. Gums so receded you could see the roots of her teeth. Long, thick white scars braided her right arm, rope-like sear tissue that pinched the sections of flesh together, and a jagged reddish-white scar bisected her right breast, just missing the shrivelled blue nipple.

Self mutilation, the doctor had said. The body was barely recognisable as Amy, but there was the grinning-bat tattoo above her left breast, a breast flattened, now, to an old woman's droopy pouch.

Faintly, he could smell her. Acid splashed up into his esophagus. "Okay," he rasped, and the orderly slammed the drawer shut with a clang.

Prentice wanted to belt the guy for not showing more respect; but it would have been absurd. Respect? Life and death had already shown Amy its fullest contempt. Prentice turned and walked out. He went looking for the L.A. sunlight.


"Look," Buddy was saving wearily, "I've been pitching you heavily to Arthwright, telling him you're not one of these Hollywood hacks. Tom, you're a screenwriter. An A writer fuh Chris' sakes. This guy is special, I'm telling him. He hears that stuff a lot from agents, how's he supposed to know it's true for Tom Prentice? You don't show up, he's gonna think you're a flake."

"Look - if you'd seen her - " Prentice began, his knuckles white on the hotel phone. "She was all . . ." He broke off not knowing how to explain it in a way that wouldn't make him seem, yes, flaky. A whiner. Buddy was his agent, not his therapist.

"I know how you feel," Buddy told him. "But you can't cancel on Arthwright. Isn't done. Especially not you and not now." Buddy's telephone voice had the distant cave-echo quality that meant he was using his speaker phone. He almost always used the speaker; fussing around his office, scribbling notes and signing papers or maybe mixing a drink while he

yelled across the room at the phone's remote mike. ''I don't want to cancel," Prentice said. "I want to postpone." He was sitting tensely on the edge of his bed, in his hotel room.

"It's the same. He isn't gonna have time for you whenever you're damn ready."

"Come on, Buddy. He'd understand if you told him about Amy."

"He'd understand, but that don't mean he'd find time for you later on. You know? He'd promise but would he do it? Not very fucking likely."

Prentice nodded to himself. In the back of Arthwright's shrivelled little producer's heart, the son of a bitch would feel that appointments with him were more important than anything else in your life. Including grieving for the dead who, after all, were not consulted in movie marketing surveys.

And, really, Prentice had known what his agent would say about cancelling the meeting. He knew Buddy, though he'd only actually met him twice, both face to face meetings quite brief. Prentice had told himself he was going to cancel the meeting anyway. But now, pressing the phone against the side of his head so hard it hurt, Prentice felt the shaky feeling that meant he was weakening, was probably going to give in.
Especially not you and not now,
Buddy had said. Like putting a rubber stamp on Prentice's forehead: He was on the Out List. He had to get back in. It was just too good a gig to lose. He couldn't handle the humiliation of going back to the only other work he knew how to do. Bartender. Maybe end up serving a cocktail to Arthwright. "
Well Hi, Tom . . . Prentice? Right, how are ya, doin' a little moonlighting from scripting huh? Hell, Tom, I may be in here washing dishes or something myself, if I don't jumpstart some

box office rentals here. We'll have to talk sometime. Ummm - I'll have a matgarita and this lovely young lady here takes, I think, a tequila sunrise? Great. Thanks Tom. So anyway, Sondra
 . . ."

"Tell me something, Buddy," Prentice said now, venting some steam. "How do people get to be on the Out List in this town anyway, huh? There are all these guys, they write films that make no goddamn money, they get no critical recognition, but they still get contracts. Just because they had something
once? Then I get one bomb and I'm supposedly on the Out List. How's that happen, huh?"

"Look, don't get pissed at me, how the fuck do I know, Tom? It's pure caprice, right? It's gossip or something, probably. Some guys, when things go sour, they don't get talked about, they don't get blamed. Some do. I don't know. Maybe it's because you're out of town until now, you're not here networking, you didn't make Warner's season-opener party, you're not at the Golden Globe receptions, people notice who's there and who isn't, you know - "

"I tried to rearrange my schedule so I could fly out for the Globes reception, but I had this thing - "

"Prioritize, Tom, you know? Got to prioritize. You've got to be here hustling close to the bone, schmooz any time you can, keep the relationships going so people stay loyal. They're always looking for somebody to backbite. If you're not around, it's your back that gets bitten . . ."

"Okay, okay, you're right. I'm here now. But Buddy - when I saw Amy's body today- " His voice broke. He swallowed, and got the masculinity back into it. "The guy said she lost fifty pounds in two days. Without liposuction, without surgery, and it wasn't losing blood and

it wasn't losing water weight. It was - It was just
." "Fifty fucking pounds in two days? Bullshit! Somebody screwed up, clerical error in the hospital records, you know? Couldn't have been that much. She lost some weight, well the woman wasted herself on drugs,
know than - " A double
in the background as Buddy's secretary informed him someone was on the line for him. "Just a minute, Tom. Lemme- " A couple of dry clicks. Static. Another click. "Tom? I gotta go here, I've got to call somebody back. But uh . . . Well, hey, about Amy: She was probably doing crack or crystal or something. You can't feel responsible."

"She was my wife, Buddy, dammit."

"Not for years, not really. You were divorced, and let me tell you, I know - my therapist, he put me on to this: the secret is, you got to let go. Let go of resentment, responsibility, after a divorce. Just write the checks and write it off." Again, the background
of Buddy's secretary, letting him know he had another call. This time there were three
, a signal that let Buddy know it was someone important, a key client or a major player. Prentice knew Buddy's phone habits the way another man knows his partner's facial expressions. "Hey," Buddy was saying, "I got to take that, Tom. Look, show up for Arthwright. Pitch him.
do your grieving, what have you. Work is therapy. And you can't afford not to take that meeting. Got to go-"

"Buddy - "

Click. Buzz. Gone.

Prentice banged the phone down on the receiver.
Pitch Arthwright, then do your grieving, what have you

you?" he muttered. "Christ." Prioritize, Tom, prioritize.

Prentice stood up. Wobbled for a moment on his legs

as the circulation shivered painfully back into them. He put on his sunglasses, thinking: Go ahead, get self righteous about the way people are in L.A. But you know you're relieved Buddy talked you into going to the meeting . . .

BOOK: John Shirley - Wetbones
7.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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