Disintegration is the second novel by Richard Thomas, and the first in the Random House Alibi “Windy City Dark Mystery Series,” out on May 26th, 2015. This is an exclusive excerpt from the novel.
“A dark existential thriller of unexpected twists, featuring a drowning man determined to pull the rest of the world under with him. A stunning and vital piece of work.”
—Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting and Filth
I pull my hands out of my coat pockets and blow on them. Habit. I’m not that cold. A flutter of white falls to the street, an old wrinkled receipt, with several items on it:
Walter E. Smithe
“You Dream It. We build it.”
Espresso Dining Table $899.00
High-back Dining Chairs (6) $720.00
Southern Enterprises Armoire $1200.00
Valencia Dresser $799.00
Cars line both sides of the street, a mixed bag of aging Camrys, new Beamers, and SUVs of every possible make and model. I kick the black BMW as I pass it, for old times’ sake, shattering the taillight. Maybe he won’t notice later, and when he’s driving home hammered, some bored cop will. A guy can dream, can’t he?
The closer I get to the address, the more noise I hear. Car doors open and close. Pockets of people lean against brick walls, inhaling cigarettes and groping each other in the shadows, laughing all the while. A wide metal door with rounded-off rivets opens, and out spill two young women in torn wedding dresses, heavy black raccoon eyeliner, and combat boots. Fuck. 2139, that’s the address. Tonight’s target is having a goddamn party.
They stumble past me, pale arms interlinked.
“Hey, killer,” the redhead says.
“Shut ” her brunette friend mutters, bulging eyes glued to me, giggling.
“Ladies. What’s going on?”
They pause for a moment, turn to each other, back to me.
“Can you roll a joint?” Red asks, her free hand on one hip, leaning toward me. She’s the vocal one.
“Well, you sure can’t, and I’m too drunk.”
Four eyes on me, the streetlamps shoot light up and down the broken street. One deep breath and I inhale their profile: the silver Tiffany’s charm bracelet on Rebekah’s wrist; the rush of gin from Red; the glistening cleavage of their restrained breasts, always tempting, always trouble; the Prada Cervo Antik Hobo Tote over the other girl’s shoulder. $1,895. Nouveau goth. Money and time.
“So, you up for it, mister? Care to rescue a couple of damsels in distress?” the slender flame asks.
I glance up to the loft windows, yellow light and a deep bass spilling out into the air. Masterson Gallery. Fuck. I’ll have to come back.
“Sure, why not?”
A flush rushes over the brunette’s face, and Red’s grin slowly intensifies. She holds out her long thin fingers, a china doll hand. For a moment I flash on Holly, her hands on my shoulders, rubbing, squeezing.
“Rebekah,” she says. “This is Cammie. What’s your name? You a friend of Peter’s?”
I take her hand in mine.
“Listen, Red, we’re gonna go roll this thing, but let’s not get too chummy, okay? I could use a little mellowing out and you two aren’t murder on the eyes.”
They stare back at me as if I just pissed on their legs. I ease open my leather coat and flash them a bit of gold. Their eyes widen and they take a step back.
“Easy, no big thing, all right? You two watch too much TV.”
“You’re a cop?” Cammie asks.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
Rebekah points back up the street in the direction that I just came from.
“I’m parked over here,” she mutters.
We wander a couple of cars in that direction, them in the lead, long legs kicking down the concrete, furtive glances back over their shoulders, thinking this is a mistake.
“Motherfucker,” Rebekah mutters, “my taillight is busted, Jesus Christ, you just can’t park on the street around here, I told you, Cammie.”
“Oh, Becka, relax.”
A grin slides across my face, and they glance my way.
“I hope you can roll the fuck out of this joint, buddy, or I’m really gonna be pissed.” Always Red.
Rebekah places her hand on the door handle, her thumb over a tiny button, and the locks disengage. She pulls open the back door and climbs in, bending over, the dress riding up her thighs, and I get a bit weak in the knees.
“You first,” Cammie says, biting her lip. “I have to go . . . um . . .”
“Take a piss?”
I ease into the backseat, all black leather, like a glove. Rebekah’s pushed against the far side, rooting around in a small metal tin. The musky scent of dope fills the air, and it smells good. Been a while.
“Here, all yours.”
Even in this meager light I can see the tiny red hairs scattered in the bag of pot. Her thigh is pressed against mine and the heat she is giving off pulses up my leg.
“Where’s Cammie?” she asks.
“Taking a piss.”
A blur of white from between rusty brick walls and Cammie slides back into the car, the door shutting with a dull thud. She turns to me and I realize how close I am sitting to these two young women. They must be in their twenties. Suddenly the car feels very small. I turn back to the business at hand, pulling out a rolling paper and sprinkling it with loose weed. A little shifting back and forth between the fingers, settling the shake, and they’re pressed up close to me, watching my every move. Two fluttering birds alight on the side of my thighs as their hands press against me, leaning in, eager. I run my tongue across the edge of the paper and catch Rebekah’s eyes. Green with flecks of amber. A trickle of sweat runs down my temple.
“We’re good. Who wants the honors?”
I raise my eyes to Rebekah, but Cammie takes it, and slides it in between her glossy lips. A lighter materializes out of thin air and she inhales, the paper crackling, red lava shooting up the sides. Her eyes squeeze shut, and she holds her breath. Passing it to me, I take a long slow hit, and pass it on to Red. She sucks it in, the edge burning up, sucking half of it down. Cammie exhales slow and smooth and her mouth is on my neck.
My eyes stay on Rebekah as I slowly exhale, a soft fog drifting out. She shoots her smoke out past my head, places the roach in the tiny metal ashtray, and shoves her tongue in my mouth. Cinnamon and ash, her tongue probes, and I fear I may swallow her whole. Cammie’s hand runs up my thigh, her teeth at my ear, biting on the lobe, and Rebekah’s hand is drifting to my crotch. Every muscle is tight, my hand on the small of Rebekah’s back, pressed up against me, and in the haze I fear we will melt. My hand is on Cammie’s thigh, the soft skin like silk, as she presses closer to me, my hand sliding up between her legs. She is a furnace and she grinds against the palm of my hand.
Rebekah pulls away gasping for air, and I open my eyes for a second. Her gaze shimmers like ripples in a pond and I feel Cammie sit up. They lean toward each other, inches from my face, and their lips come together in a moist smack, their hands rising up to grab each other’s faces, mouths opening and closing, tongues darting in and out, sliding over each other, tiny moans escaping.
There is a rush of cold air and Cammie’s eyes widen, her head disappearing from view. A squeal escapes her mouth as she flies backward out of the car and onto the sidewalk, landing on her ass.
“Shit,” Rebekah mutters.
Cammie sits on the ground, propped up on her elbows, her dress hiked up, eyes glancing upward. Her head snaps to one side, the hand invisible, a red mark slowly spreading across her cheek the only sign of the violence. Her tiny fingers rise to her face, tears welling up. Rebekah pops open the door and shoots out her side.
“Goddamnit, Mark, what gives you the fucking right . . .” she begins.
I close my eyes for a second. For one moment in time, it was perfection. For just one minute, it had all disappeared, as deep as I went, numb. I take a slow breath, preparing myself for the inevitable.
“Shut up, Becka, you stupid fucking whore.”
I lean toward the sidewalk, Cammie’s eyes wet and pleading.
“It’s bad enough that my girlfriend can’t keep her legs closed, but my own fucking sister?”
“Jesus, Mark, don’t be such a tight-ass,” Rebekah mouths.
A small grunt, the crisp smack of flesh on flesh, and Rebekah reels from a strong backhand across the jaw.
I ease out of the car, sure that this is not the right time, nor will it ever be.
“Who the fuck are you?” he yells, his voice rising in pitch.
His head swivels on his neck and I worry it will snap off, back and forth between the girls. They hold their hands to their faces, troublemakers no doubt, but they’re still women. And I’ve never hit a woman before.
“Listen, jackass,” I begin, clenching my fists, knuckles cracking as I move toward him. “You can apologize to the ladies here, or you can get hurt real fast.”
He comes toward me, furious, out of breath, and throws a punch high. I duck under it, and come back up with a shot to the gut. He bends over and hurls cheap white wine over the side of the car.
“You two can head back in or hop in your car.”
Cammie slowly stands up. She takes Rebekah’s hand, and they wander back toward the party.
“Don’t hurt him,” Cammie says.
“Go on, he’ll be fine.”
When they’re out of sight, back through the metal door, their thrill for the night slowly fading, I turn to the dime-a-dozen leaning on one knee in the dirt by the car, one hand on the black Beamer.
“Fuck it, man,” he says. “Stupid bitch.”
He raises his eyes to mine and I see nothing stirring behind the eyes—only a drunk kid who can’t control his bisexual girlfriend. I feel sorry for him. Slowly he stands up, shaky, face pale, cheeks flushed.
“This will be over fast,” I say. “Do you understand?”
I punch him hard in the face and he staggers a bit.
“That’s for hitting Cammie, your girlfriend.”
He smiles, blood creeping across his perfect teeth.
I punch him again, a little higher this time. It’ll leave a black eye. He reels but stays up.
“That’s for hitting Rebekah, your sister.”
I turn and head back down the street, the way I came. Total bust. Way too much trouble tonight, can’t have anybody remembering I was here—too many dots connected, too many witnesses. I’ll have to come back.
And now my hand hurts.