Colin has been drinking alone all day and is drunk. House of Stuart, a cheap scotch in a glass bottle. He started drinking when he got off work on Friday, passed out Friday night, woke up Saturday morning and resumed. Had to swing by the liquor store Saturday afternoon to get more and is currently working on the bottle that he picked up then. He passes out. He wakes up. It’s around 9pm Saturday night. He’s looking around his dark apartment. He knows exactly where he is, but suddenly everything feels sharply unreal. He feels like he’s dreaming. He’s not dreaming. He’s awake. He looks at his hands. His hands are his hands. He looks in the mirror. His face is his face. He goes to lie down on his bed and he lies down sideways across the bed instead of head to foot. He stares up at the ceiling. He goes to sleep.
He wakes up Sunday morning with a jolt. He’s still crosswise on the bed. He remembers the feeling from the night before. The feeling of not being real. He wonders if it was a dream, but knows it was not. Everything was familiar but unreal. He gets out of bed and goes into the little kitchen of his apartment. No more House of Stuart left in the bottle. He opens the fridge. No beer either. He’ll have to get more. He cannot get through Sunday without drinking.
He leaves his apartment. It’s morning but it’s already hot. Getting near 100 degrees. The liquor store he likes to walk to with the Vietnamese proprietor who calls House of Stuart “House Stuart” is not open this early. He will have to get in his car and go to the grocery store. He walks to his car in the lot. He decides he’ll get coffee first.
He drives to the coffee place and goes in. Sitting near the entrance is this woman he’s seen in there before. Colin thinks that she’s homeless and she sits in the coffee shop most mornings for a little shelter and air conditioning. Where she goes when the morning is over is unknown. She has a thin body, and she always wears a shoulder-bearing t-shirt and too small shorts that show off part of her ass. She has short, short hair that she must regularly haphazardly cut herself. Except for bad teeth and bad skin burnt by the sun, she is not unattractive for a homeless woman.
He walks past her as she sits upright by the window smiling dumbly. Colin mumbles his coffee order. Colin takes his coffee and walks past the homeless woman again on his way out. She smiles at him and he nods. He gets in his car and heads to the grocery store to get his booze. At the mostly empty grocery store in the completely empty liquor department, Colin grabs two bottles of House of Stuart and a 12 pack of Rolling Rock beer bottles.
Driving back to his apartment he sees the homeless woman from earlier walking towards the large park across the street from Colin’s apartment complex. Colin knows there’s a large forested ravine in the park in which many homeless set up their campsites. Colin notes her ass peeking out of her shorts. The mixture of alcohol withdrawal, intense heat, years-accumulated loneliness and very little to lose gives Colin a bad idea.
He pulls the vehicle up alongside the homeless woman and rolls down his window.
“Hey!” he says with a smile. “I’m Colin.”
“Hi,” the woman says with a scratchy voice. “I’m Lucy.”
“Hi, Lucy,” Colin says. “Pretty fucking hot, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah, it is,” Lucy says with a puzzled look on her face.
“I just bought a bunch of booze and was gonna go into my air-conditioned apartment and drink it. Does that sound at all good to you? To drink some booze in my apartment?”
“Yeah,” Lucy says. She looks away from Colin down the road. “I don’t really know you, Colin.”
“You don’t know me at all,” Colin says with a snort. “Not yet.” Colin grabs a bottle of House of Stuart off the passenger’s seat. “But here’s some booze I got, you can see that. And my apartment is just right here.” Colin points to his building. “And if you aren’t having any fun you can leave any time you want. I promise. I’m not dangerous. I’m just, you know, in need of some company.”
“Alright,” Lucy says.
Back at his apartment, Colin starts pouring Scotch for the both of them and puts on Steely Dan. Colin finds Lucy a bit shy at first, so Colin does most of the talking.
“I’m an antiques appraiser. I don’t make enough money to collect anything myself – not yet – and maybe I never will. But I get to go to people’s homes and businesses and things like that and look at their stuff and tell them how much it’s worth. It’s not a bad deal. Did you ever work, Lucy?”
“I worked at my dad’s car wash a long time ago, in Casa Grande.”
“That’s where you’re from?” Colin asks. Lucy nods. “So how’d you end up here?”
“Y’know,” Lucy says. “Got anything to eat?” Colin orders pizza and Lucy eats eagerly while Colin watches.
More Scotch is consumed and the cheap stuff begins to taste awful. They start in on the beer. Colin suggests dancing. Colin dances while Lucy dances timidly. Lucy wants to go to sleep. Colin lets her sleep in his bed. Colin passes out on the couch. They wake up in the late afternoon and Lucy wants to leave. Colin suggests that she stay. He offers her $100 to stay. She agrees. Colin gets $100 from his sock drawer and gives it to her. They drink more scotch and more beer. Colin tells her that they should lie down together. She agrees. He pulls down her shorts. She doesn’t say anything. Colin starts to rub her pussy. She smiles at him. Colin kisses her on the cheek. Then her neck. She smells funky. Like cigarettes and booze and a body odor of an atomic magnitude that ignites a deep animal passion in him. He kisses her on her cracked lips. He fucks her. They fall asleep.
In the morning Colin wakes up with a jolt. It’s Monday and he has to work. Lucy is passed out asleep. Colin cannot believe what he has done. He decides to leave Lucy to sleep. He trusts that she will show herself out when she awakes. He pulls another $100 from his sock drawer and puts it on the nightstand.
At the office his boss, Ambrose Dewey, is pouring over a document with his glasses pulled way down to the end of his nose.
“Good morning, Colin,” he says. “You have to go somewhere today. I’m not sure what the object is but it’s at a church in Phoenix. The Church of the Unnamed Redeemer.”
“Is that Catholic, sir?”
“I don’t believe it is,” Ambrose says. “Unaffiliated it appears. Maybe not even Christian.”
“They didn’t say what the object is, Sir?”
“No, they did not,” Ambrose says. “But they did allude to the fact that it’s extremely valuable. Please go check it out.”
“The contact’s name, Sir?”
“Crow,” he says. “Reverend Stanley Crow.”
Colin gets in his car and heads to the church. He feels disoriented and keyed up. Not unusual after a weekend spent drunk. He pulls up to the Church of the Unnamed Redeemer, which is just a suite next to a Smoothie King in a strip mall, across the street from a park where some Mexican teenagers are playing soccer. Colin walks up to the door and looks in through the glass. There’s no one in there as far as he can tell. All he can see are some folding chairs arranged in a circle and a flip chart on an easel with the words “Forget Forgetting” written on it.
Colin opens the door into the dark empty room and calls out.
“Hello? Reverend Crow?” As Colin says this a tall, bald middle-aged man in jeans and a colorful Polo emerges from a back room.
“Hi, I’m Reverend Crow,” he says as he walks over.
“I’m Colin.” Colin reaches out his tremored hand. “From Dewey Appraisers.”
“Ah yes,” Reverend Crow says as he shakes Colin’s hand. “Very good to see you. I’m Reverend Crow. Ha, but of course you knew that. Anyway what I want to show you is in the back.”
Colin follows the tall man into the back office which is crowded with a metal desk and books with titles like Your Journey Isn’t A Far One and You’ve Only Just Finished Forever. Reverend Crow turns the dial on a safe on the desk.
“Do you mind me asking what kind of church this is?” Colin asks. Reverend Crow stops opening the safe and turns back to look at Colin.
“That’s a very good question, Colin,” he says. “Are you familiar with the phrase, ‘Knowing knows before knowing remembers?’”
“Can’t say that I am.”
“That’s something the Unnamed Redeemer said. He said a lot of things. But he was a man that had access to a lot of interesting information in his lifetime.”
“Who was he?”
“He was just a man. A soldier actually. In Vietnam. I didn’t make it over myself, was a bit young for that conflict. But I met the Unnamed Redeemer on the streets right here in Phoenix and I heard his message and wheeled him around everywhere. He didn’t have legs, Colin. But he had a mind and said beautiful things. ‘Don’t lose yourself to yourself.’ That’s something he told me and I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.”
“I see,” Colin says. “So why was he the Unnamed Redeemer?”
“Because he never told me his name,” Reverend Crow says as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “But he did give me the title of Reverend and asked me to write down every single thing he said. And that’s what’s in these books which are the foundational texts of our church.” The Reverend points to the books crowding the shelves of his small office. “And to this day people seek the Unnamed Redeemer’s wisdom here at this building. We have a small congregation right now but it’s growing. Maybe you’ll join us for a service soon.”
“Certainly,” Colin says knowing that he won’t.
“Anyway,” the Reverend turns to the safe and gets it open. “Here’s what I wanted to show you.” The Reverend holds up a quarter. “Here, hold it.” Colin takes it from his hand and confirms that it’s just a United States Quarter.
“It’s a quarter,” Colin says.
“Yes, that’s true,” The Reverend says. “But it’s the quarter that I gave the Unnamed Redeemer when he sat outside of the Circle K on Central when I first met him. And he said to me, ‘That’s a quarter now. But soon it will be an entire universe.’ And I didn’t believe him right away. But I believe him now. And many others will come to believe him as well before it’s over.”
“Um, Reverend, I’m not sure-,” Colin begins.
“Look, Colin. I know you look at this from your perspective as an appraiser, you’re an educated man, and you know the value of things.” The Reverend takes the quarter back. “But there are many things you’ll look at and undervalue in your lifetime. You already don’t know half of what it is you actually know. You see?” The Reverend looks directly into Colin’s eyes and Colin feels frightened. The Reverend speaks to Colin like he’s known him for a long time.
“You know so much and don’t know it. And you’ll see things, many things, and you won’t appreciate them, or understand them, or properly value them. You’ll place dollar amounts on objects and you may be right, but in your life, in your universe, you’ll let the wrong things slip through your very fingers. And I wish you wouldn’t do that. But I can’t control you, Colin.”
“Reverend, I don’t think I can help you with your coin,” Colin says. His heart is racing. “I have to leave.” Colin backs out of the office and walks to his car as fast as he can.
Back at the office, Colin tells Ambrose that the church was a bust. He takes the rest of the day off and speeds to the liquor store by his apartment to get a bottle of House of Stuart and a 32 oz. of Miller High Life. He gets back to his place and opens the unlocked door. Lucy showed herself out without taking anything except for the $100 he left her on the nightstand. His heart still racing from his encounter with Reverend Crow, he drinks the House of Stuart straight from the bottle and chases it with pulls from the High Life. He calms down and by the late afternoon he passes out.
Colin wakes up disoriented on his sofa. It must be 8:00 or 9:00 pm. It’s dark outside. He remembers Lucy. He remembers the Reverend. His confusion becomes a helmet over his brain. He seeks out the bottle of House of Stuart which is still half full. He gets the disgusting orange liquid down his throat and in his stomach as quickly as he can. His helmet of confusion turns to a mesh wrapping. He knows what he has to do.
He exits his apartment and crosses the street to the park. He takes the path to the edge of the ravine and looks out at the verdant landscape.
“Lucy!” he shouts. “Lucy!”
He descends into the ravine and pulls out his cellphone and turns on the flashlight.
“Lucy!” He comes up to a tent and looks inside.
“Lucy?” There’s no one in the tent. He moves on. He sees a bum smoking a cigarette on top of a sleeping pad with a plastic 40 of Steel Reserve beside him.
“Do you know where Lucy is?”
“I don’t know no, Lucy, son,” the bum says.
“Ok, sorry,” Colin says and moves on. “Lucy! Lucy!”
“Shut the fuck up!” Colin can hear someone yell from another end of the ravine.
Colin sees another tent and looks inside of it. There’s a dirty-faced young man looking back at him.
“Oh shit, sorry,” Colin says. “Do you know where Lucy is?”
“Yeah, man,” the kid says. “But I can’t find her for free.”
Colin reaches into his pocket and pulls out a twenty.
“Thanks,” the kid says. Colin follows him through thick brush and trash and the kid points to a tent. “That’s it, man.”
“Lucy!” Colin shouts as he walks up to the tent. He looks inside. He sees a man’s ass pumping up and down. “Lucy?” He sees Lucy’s smile from the back of the tent, beyond the man’s ass. The man is fucking her. The man turns around to look at Colin. He’s completely bald with a large beard, has messy lines tattooed on his face and is missing nearly all of his teeth.
“Can you get the fuck out of here? Can’t you see I’m fucking my bitch?!?” he yells at Colin. Colin runs away.
Back at his apartment, Colin finishes the House of Stuart and sits in the dark. And he’s again seized by the feeling of unreality he felt two nights ago. He gets up and carries the buzzing unreality to the mirror to check his face. It’s him. He’s certain he’s awake but he feels like he’s dreaming. He turns off the light and carries the feeling to bed. The bed smells like a homeless woman. He goes to sleep.
— Brendan is a co-host of the ELLROY BOYS podcast and co-creator of the audio drama THE ISOLATION CHAMBER. Follow him on Twitter.
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