Page 101 of Mystic River


It was the cop's look, he realized. Sergeant Powers. The sense that he was peeking directly into Dave's mind. The smile returned to Jimmy's face, riding up and down like a dinghy, and Dave felt his stomach go with it, bouncing as if riding a wave.


He swallowed several times, and took a deep suck of the air.

"You all right?" Val said.

Dave held up a hand. If everyone would just shut up, he'd be fine. "Yeah."

"You sure?" Jimmy said. "You're looking green, man."

It surged up inside of him and he felt his windpipe close like a fist and then pop back open and beads of sweat explode across his brow. "Oh, shit."

"Dave."

"I'm going to be sick," he said, feeling it beginning to surge again. "Really."

Val said, "Okay, okay," and slid out of the booth fast. "Use the back door. Huey don't like cleaning it off toilet rims. Got it?"

Dave pushed out of the booth and Val gripped his shoulders and turned them so that Dave could see the door at the far end of the bar past the pool table.

Dave walked toward the door, trying to keep his steps straight, one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, but the door listing a bit anyway. It was a dark door and small, the oak painted black and scarred and chipped over the years. Dave could feel the heat in this place suddenly. It was clammy and thick and it blew on him as he lurched toward the door, reaching out for the brass knob, grateful for how cool it felt in his hand as he turned it and pushed the door open.

The first thing he saw were weeds. Then water. He stumbled out, surprised at how dark it got back here, and as if on cue, a light over the door snapped on and bathed the cracked tar directly in front of him. He could hear the traffic honking and banging away on the bridge above him, and suddenly he felt the wave of nausea pass. He might be all right after all. He took a deep gulp of the night. On his left someone had piled stacks of rotting wooden pallets and rusted lobster traps, some of them with ragged holes as if they'd been attacked by sharks. Dave wondered what the hell lobster traps were doing so far inland and on a river, then decided he was too drunk to figure out the answer anyway. Beyond the piles was a chain-link fence, as rusty as the lobster traps and strangled in weeds. A field of weeds taller than most men stood to the right of him, going back through the torn and cracked gravel for a good twenty yards.

Dave's stomach lurched again, and the new surge was the strongest yet, punching its way up through his body. He stumbled to the water's edge and got his head down just as the fear and the Sprite and the beer poured out of him into the oily Mystic. It was pure liquid. There was nothing else in him. He couldn't honestly remember the last time he'd eaten. But the moment it cleared his mouth and hit the water, he felt better. He felt the cool of the dusk in his hair. A slight breeze rose up off the river. He waited, on his knees, to see if he'd heave up any more, though he doubted it. It was as if he'd been cleansed.

He looked up at the underside of the bridge, everyone battling to either get into the city or out of it, everyone in an irritated rush, probably half aware that they wouldn't feel any better once they got home. Half of them would go right back out again? to the market for something they'd forgotten, to a bar, to the video store, to a restaurant where they'd wait in line again. And for what? What did we line up for? Where did we expect to go? And why were we never as happy as we thought we'd be once we got there?

Dave noticed a small boat with an outboard to his right. It was tied up to a flat plank so tiny and sagging you couldn't justifiably call it a dock. Huey's boat, he figured, and smiled at an image of the deathly looking stick of a guy rolling out into these greasy waters, the wind in his pitch-black hair.

He turned his head and looked around at the pallets and weeds. No wonder people came out here to puke. It was completely isolated. Unless you were on the other side of the river with binoculars, you couldn't see this spot. It was blocked on three sides, and it was so quiet, the sound of the cars overhead having a muffled distance to them, the weeds blocking out everything but the caws of the gulls and the lap of the water. If Huey was smart, he'd clear the weeds and pallets, build a deck out here, attract some of the yuppies moving into Admiral Hill and trying to turn Chelsea into the next battleground for gentrification once they got done with East Bucky.

Dave spit a few times and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He stood, deciding he'd have to tell Val and Jimmy that he'd need to get something to eat before he had another drink. It didn't have to be great food, just substantive. And when he turned around, they were standing by the black door, Val to the left of it, Jimmy to the right, the door shut tight, Dave thinking they looked kind of funny, like they were here to deliver furniture, couldn't see where they were going to drop it in all those weeds.

Dave said, "Hey, guys. Come to make sure I didn't fall in?"

Jimmy came off the wall and walked toward him, and the light that hung over the door snapped off. Jimmy, gone black in the dark, approached slowly, his white face picking up some light from the bridge and moving in and out of shadow.

"Let me tell you about Ray Harris," Jimmy said, talking so quietly that Dave had to lean forward. "Ray Harris was a buddy of mine, Dave. He used to come and visit me when I was in prison. He used to check up on Marita and Katie and my mother, see if they needed anything. He did these things so I'd think he was my friend, but the real reason was guilt. He felt guilty for getting his balls caught in a vise and ratting me out to the police. He felt real bad about it. But after he'd been coming by the prison for a few months, a weird thing happened." Jimmy reached Dave, and he stopped, looked into Dave's face with his head slightly cocked. "I discovered I liked Ray. I mean, I honestly enjoyed the guy's company. We'd talk about sports, about God, about books, about our wives, our children, the politics of the day, what have you. Ray was the kinda guy, he could talk about anything. He had an interest in everything. That's rare. Then my wife died. You know? She died and they sent some guard into my cell to say, 'Sorry, convict, your wife passed last night at eight-fifteen. She's gone.' And the thing was? What killed me about my wife dying, Dave? It was that she had to go through it completely alone. I know what you're thinking, we all die alone. True. That last stage when you've slipped away, yeah, you're alone. But my wife had skin cancer. She spent the last six months dying slow. And I could have been there for that. I could have helped her with the dying. Not the death, but the dying. I wasn't there, though. Ray, a guy I liked, robbed me and my wife of that."

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