Page 94 of Mystic River

The first one went down easy as he walked around the empty apartment. Celeste could have come home while he was gone and then went off to work, and he thought of calling Ozma's to see if she was in there now, cutting heads and chatting with the ladies, flirting with Paolo, the gay guy who worked the same shifts as she did and flirted in that loose but not entirely harmless way gay men did. Or maybe he'd go down to Michael's school, give him a big wave and a hug, then walk him back toward home, stop for chocolate milk on the way.

But Michael wasn't in school and Celeste wasn't at work. Dave somehow knew that they were hiding from him, so he finished his second beer sitting at the kitchen table, feeling it work its way into his body, calming everything, turning the air in front of him a tad silver and a tad swirly.

He should have told her. Right from the start, he should have told his wife what had really happened. He should have had faith in her. Not many wives stood by has-been high school ballplayers who'd been molested as children and couldn't hold down a decent job. But Celeste had. Just the thought of her over the sink the other night, washing those clothes, saying she was taking care of the evidence, babe? Jesus, she was something. How could Dave have lost sight of that? How did you get to the point where you'd been around someone for so long that you couldn't even see them?

Dave got the third and last beer out of the fridge and walked around the apartment some more, his body filling with love for his wife and love for his son. He wanted to curl up against his wife's naked body as she stroked his hair and tell her how much he'd missed her in that interrogation room with its cracked chair and its cold. Earlier, he'd thought he'd wanted human warmth, but the truth was he'd just wanted Celeste's warmth. He wanted to wrap her body around his and make her smile and kiss her eyelids and caress her back and smother himself with her.

It's not too late, he'd tell her when she came home. My brain's just been miswired recently, all jumbled up. This beer in my hand ain't helping matters, I suppose, but I need it until I have you again. And then I'll quit. I'll quit drinking and I'll take computer classes or something, get a good white-collar job. The National Guard offers tuition reimbursement, and I can do that. I can do one weekend a month and a few weeks in the summer for my family. For my family, I can do that standing on my head. It'll help me get back into shape, lose the beer weight, clear my mind. And when I get that white-collar job, I'll move us out of here, out of this whole neighborhood with its steadily rising rents and stadium deals and gentrification. Why fight it? They'll push us out sooner or later. Push us out and make a Crate & Barrel world for themselves, discuss their summer homes at the caf├ęs and in the aisles of the whole-food markets.

We'll go someplace good, though, he'd tell Celeste. We'll go someplace clean where we can raise our son. We'll start fresh. And I'll tell you what happened, Celeste. It's not pretty, but it's not as bad as you think. I'll tell you that I have some scary, perverse things in my head and maybe I need to see someone about them. I have wants that disgust me, but I'm trying, honey. I'm trying to be a good man. I'm trying to bury the Boy. Or at the very least, teach him something about compassion.

Maybe that's what the guy in the Cadillac had been looking for? a little compassion. But the Boy Who'd Escaped from Wolves wasn't about any fucking compassion Saturday night. He'd had that gun in his hand and he'd hit the guy in the Cadillac through his open window, Dave hearing bone crack as the red-haired kid scrambled up and out through the passenger door, stood there with his mouth agape as Dave hit the guy again and again. He'd reached in and pulled him out through the door by his hair, and the guy hadn't been as helpless as he'd pretended. He'd been playing possum, and Dave only saw the knife as it sliced through his shirt and into his flesh. It was a switchblade, feebly swung, but sharp enough to cut Dave before he rammed his knee into the guy's wrist, pinned his arm against the car door. When the knife fell to the pavement, Dave kicked it under the car.

The red-haired kid looked scared, but excited too, and Dave, enraged beyond reason now, brought the butt of the gun down on top of the guy's head so hard, he cracked the handle. The guy rolled onto his stomach, and Dave hopped on his back, feeling the wolf, hating this man, this freak, this fucking degenerate child molester, getting a good grip on the bastard's hair and pulling his head up and then ramming it down into the pavement. Just ramming it, over and over again, pulverizing this guy, this Henry, this George, this, oh Jesus, this Dave, this Dave.

Die, you motherfucker. Die, die, die.

The red-haired kid ran off then, Dave turning his head and realizing the words were coming out of his mouth. "Die, die, die, die, die." Dave watched the kid run off through the parking lot and he scrambled after him, his hands dripping with the guy's blood. He wanted to tell the red-haired kid that he'd done this for him. He'd saved him. And he would protect him forever if that's what he wanted.

He stood in the alley behind the bar, out of breath, knowing the kid was long gone. He looked up at the night sky. He said, "Why?"

Why put me here? Why give me this life? Why give me this disease, a disease that I despise, in particular, more than any other? Why scramble my brain with moments of beauty and tenderness and intermittent love for my child and my wife? glimpses, really, of a life that could have been mine if that car hadn't rolled down Gannon Street and taken me to that basement? Why?

Answer me, please. Oh, please, please, answer me.

But, of course, there was nothing. Nothing but silence and the drip of gutters and the light rain turning stronger.

He walked back out of the alley a few minutes later and found the man lying beside his car.

Wow, Dave thought. I killed him.

But then the guy rolled over onto his side, gasping like a fish. He had blond hair and a pillow for a belly on an otherwise slim frame. Dave tried to remember what his face had looked like before he'd plunged his hand through the open window and hit him with the gun. He remembered only that his lips had seemed too red and too wide.

The guy's face was gone now, though. It looked like it had been pressed against a jet engine, and Dave felt a wave of nausea as he watched this bloody thing suck at the air, heaving.

The guy didn't seem to be aware of Dave standing over him. He rolled onto his knees and started crawling. He crawled toward the trees behind the car. He crawled up the small embankment and put his hands on the chain-link fence that separated the parking lot from the scrap metal company on the other side. Dave took off the flannel shirt he was wearing over his T-shirt. He wrapped it around the gun as he walked toward the faceless creature.