Authors: Tim Meyer
In the House of Mirrors
by Tim Meyer
Copyright © 2013 Tim Meyer
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, and locations are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
This file is licensed for private individual entertainment only. The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into an information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electrical, mechanical, photographic, audio recording, or otherwise) for any reason (excepting the uses permitted to the licensee by copyright law under terms of fair use) without the specific written permission of the author.
No one writes a book alone. Special thanks to Pete Draper, Steve Hanson, Aleesa Millet, Mike Tucciarone, Matt Sochacki and the always inspiring Ashley-Jean Meyer for helping shape this book in ways I didn't think was possible. I owe each and every one of you.
IN THE HOUSE OF MIRRORS
THE RED RIVER BLUES
Never had I given much thought to the timeless debate of fate versus freewill, until I found that damned camera, the one that nearly cost me my life, and threatened the existence of the universe as we know it.
But that comes later.
I guess I should start at the beginning.
I pulled my car off of the Garden State Parkway around a quarter to two, on the first Friday of January. The green sign I passed welcoming me to the Jersey Shore stood like a titan on the side of the highway, exactly how I remembered it when I was kid. It'd been about six years since I'd been back in my home state, ten since I lived there. Once I moved to Atlanta after college, I left and never looked back. Never thought about returning. Never cared to.
But in that moment, I was glad to be back. When I crossed the state line an hour earlier, my stomach knotted with nervous excitement. It had died when I left the parkway and pulled onto Route 7, passing a sign for Treebound, a town I never spent much time in when I was younger. I was headed to Red River, the town I grew up in, a stone's throw away from the infamous beaches of the Jersey Shore. It was the largest town in the county, bringing together a diverse blend of people. It was always a good town, never high on crime or anything like that. There was always stuff to do, whether you wanted to spend a night with the family or go drinking with the guys, Red River had everything for everyone.
My sister, Anne Naughton, never left The Riv (what we called it when we were kids) and now has kids of her own. She married Robert Davis, her high school honey, and had three little bundles of joy. I called Anne about a week before, asking if it would be okay to stay with them temporarily until I got my feet back on the ground. “We can empty out the basement,” she told me. “Stay with us as long as you like, as long as you can handle a noisy household.” Besides her, Robert, and the three kids, they also had two dogs and two cats. “Things haven't been quiet around here in a long time,” she said, giggling. Oddly, this seemed to please her. Yes, the teenage girl who locked herself in her room everyday so she wouldn't have to listen to me blast my music, or hear my mother and father argue about things that didn't matter, now enjoyed a rowdy family life.
I told her the stay would only be temporary until I found a decent job, and was able to afford a place on my own. “No problem,” she said. “Stay as long as you need to. I know how rough things have been lately.”
I didn't actually explain to Anne how
my times had been, but I'm sure she got the full scoop from my mother, the gossip queen of whatever town she happens to reside in. Currently, she lives in North Jersey near her sister, in a town where everyone sounds like they belong in a
Martin Scorsese picture. I rarely see my mother, with the exception of Christmas, when she'd fly down to visit Lynne and I. Every year I'd promise to return to Jersey during the next holiday, but I never did make good on that promise. I think my mother knew I never would, and honestly, I think she was okay with that. Secretly, I think she liked flying south every year.
There wasn't any particular reason I hadn't been home in almost six years. There wasn't anything I disliked about Jersey. It's not exactly what reality television has made it out to be. Every place has their fine points and low ones, just as people do. If you asked me why I hadn't returned home in so long, I couldn't tell you. All I
tell you is that when I earned my Journalism degree from Rutgers University at the age of twenty-two, I was done with Jersey, and Jersey was done with me.
To this day, I believe a large part of why I never bothered to return home was Lynne. I was twenty-four when I met her, and working at
The Georgia Press
, in Atlanta. We met at a nightclub—a place I'm not particularly fond of—downtown. The whole club scene isn't really my thing. The idea of buying expensive drinks and being forced to make an ass out of myself on the dance floor did nothing for me. If it contains loud, obnoxious music in a room full of fist-pumping maniacs (okay, so there
something I hate about New Jersey), then count me out. I preferred a more relaxed atmosphere, like sitting on a barstool, watching whatever game happens to be on that night. In any case, I can't recall what I was doing there that night. I remember a few of us from the paper went out, maybe because Mark (our editor) wanted to celebrate a big advertising sale, or maybe it was for Tom Riddick's thirtieth birthday. I don't remember. I
remember there were four of us, hanging out in the corner, trying to hold a conversation over the blaring music that made the floor beneath us vibrate like an earth tremor. It was from that position I spotted her. Lynne's long golden hair waved in the air as she mashed her buttocks into the hips of her dancing partner. She was wearing a low-cut shirt, which displayed enough cleavage to make any man salivate. I was the only one out of the four of us to notice her. I stared at her, captivated by her looks and that perfect smile. She seemed like she knew how to have fun.
I don't know what compelled me to walk over there anymore than I know why I avoided my home state for so long. I guess it was the same driving force that made me return to Jersey after a six-year absence. It was probably the same invisible current that offered me that evil camera, forever warping my sense of reality. Whatever this strange current was, it was powerful, and I couldn't fight it. Hell, I didn't want to.
“Naughton, what are you doing?” Tom asked, but I barely heard him. I shifted my feet toward Lynne, no longer in control of them. Everything around me drowned. I was focused on one thing, and one thing only.
Shortly after that night, we began hanging out three or four times a week. When we weren't together, we were talking on the phone, laughing at each others' corny, pathetic jokes or discussing which professional quarterback had the team to get to the Big Dance in February. She always took Matt Ryan's side, of course, being a cheerleader for the hometown team. It was only a part-time gig, but it paid well. When football was in the off-season, she instructed dance classes in Aberdeen, a half-hour south of Atlanta.
Besides being one of the most talented dancers in all of Georgia, and in my opinion, the most beautiful, Lynne was several other things. One of those things was a recovering drug addict (Hi, my name is Ritchie and I'm here for support). She wasn't clean when I met her, but once we started being “official,” she claimed she wanted to quit for me so we could be happy together for the longest time possible. When an addict says they want to get clean for any reason other than themselves, they're going to fail ten times out of ten. At least that's what Lynne's sponsor told me.
Lynne checked herself into rehab two weeks after the season ended. She relapsed once in our four-year relationship. A mutual friend told me she had been smoking crack with some of the other cheerleaders before a game. I confronted her about it, and she told me she hadn't touched the shit. Swore on her dead mother. Swore on Jesus. Swore on
I found the crackpipe buried deep within her closet a week later. She said it was left over from the year prior, before her rehab stint. I called her a liar, along with a bunch of other names I don't really regret, and then ended things with her. I was pretty upset about having to do it, but it was the only way.
Two weeks after moving out, she showed up on my doorstep, homeless and with no place to go. She swore she went back to rehab and cleaned herself up, that she was done with drugs and didn't need them anymore. Her hair was scraggly and dark, not the golden color it once was. Huge black bags sat beneath her eyes. It was hardly the look of someone drug-free. But what did I know? Lynne Bradley filled a void in my heart no woman before her could. I couldn't turn her loose in the streets. They'd eat her alive. Visions of her blowing strangers for crack money filled my head, and I let her in. I told her if she fucked up one more time that I'd have no choice but to shut her out of my life completely.
She agreed. “You're always so good to me,” she said. “Always believed in me.”
“Still do,” I said. I touched her cheek. We kissed.
I told her she'd have to continue going to meetings, and that I'd be happy to attend them for moral support. I went to my fair share of meetings, and met a lot of kind-hearted people. Whenever Lynne asked me to go with her, I never said no. I was always there for her.
She stayed clean for the remainder of our relationship, which ended not so long ago and fueled my trip back to The Riv.
I remember it happened on a Saturday. I had to go into the office early to finish up a few things before the Sunday edition hit the printer. I dropped by Mark's office a little after eight, right after I hit the break room for coffee and donuts. Mark was thumbing through an article, his trusty red pen hard at work. He didn't look up to greet me.
How's the Penman article coming along?” he asked, scribbling red ink all over Riddick's article on a dead hooker the police found gutted in a Dumpster the night before, her ovaries removed.
Good,” I replied. George Penman, former mayor, had recently committed adultery. Infidelity involving government officials was always front-page material, especially if the deed involved a fourteen-year old boy. “I'll have to edit it down to make it appropriate for all ages,” I told him. It wouldn't be easy. The information I received had been more disturbing than Riddick's dead-hooker story.
I need it by noon,” Mark said. He pushed the dead hooker to the side of his desk and put down his red pen. Taking off his glasses, he glanced at me suspiciously. “I'll have it by noon, right?” His lips formed a faint smile.
Of course,” I said. I've only been late on a story once or twice in my career. Mark looked at me as if he knew that article wasn't going to find his desk before the clock struck twelve.
I turned toward the door, coffee in hand, donut long since devoured.
“Oh, Ritchie,” he said, as if he had forgotten to mention something important. “We're taking Finnegan to lunch at 12:30. You in?”
Didn't you hear? He's moving to Michigan.”
I nodded. “Must have forgot.” I'm not sure what possessed me to do it (that damn current?), but I reached for my wallet. It wasn't there. I had left it home, on the dresser, next to a picture of Lynne and I at our friends' wedding. I remember staring at it extraordinarily long that morning, and I must've forgotten about grabbing my wallet completely.
What's the matter?” Mark laughed. “Looks like someone just slapped your balls.”
I forgot my wallet.”
I can spot you for lunch, Ritchie. No need to look stupefied.”
I had a better idea, one I wished I hadn't thought of, but at the same time, I'm glad I did. “What if I go home to finish the Penman article? I can grab my wallet, and the three of us will be back at noon. Just in time for your deadline.”
Mark shrugged, smiled, and said, “Do whatever you got to do, Ritchie.” He looked as if he knew something and wasn't telling me. “Don't let me down.”
But I did let him down. The George Penman article never hit the press.
The traffic on Saturday mornings in Atlanta was absurd. I tried taking as many side streets as possible, but they too were plugged. I took Cassack Street to North Main, and then crossed over to Brighton Avenue. According to Mike and Tina on 104.3, an old woman, going about forty on Old Egypt, ran over a Latino gentlemen riding his bicycle. This was usually the quickest way home, but the scene sounded grisly and I didn't want any part of it. Anyway, the police and ambulances had arrived and I heard them faintly as Mike and Tina switched from traffic to sports. They began to rant about the Falcons having a better shot of making the playoffs than the Saints. The two teams were scheduled to play the following day, a game that would take place less than ten minutes from our apartment. I had every intention of going.
Tina was yelling at Mike, telling him the Falcons had the best defense in the league, and Mike laughed at her, informing her that she wouldn't know a stout defense over a piss-poor one if it slapped her on her over-sized tush. Mike was a male-chauvinist jackass most of the time, but I'd be lying if I said I never chuckled at his edgy humor. Tina never seemed to mind. The two of them played their parts well, and perhaps that was why they were the most popular radio show in the city.
While the two were bickering about the big game, I pulled onto Wells Avenue, where our humble apartment stood on the corner. I parked in our designated spot on the street, and realized that Lynne's car had been parked in a different spot than when I had left that morning. I didn't think anything of it at the time.
I jogged the short flight of stairs that led to our door. I always preferred second-story apartments, especially living in this section of the city. It wasn't the ghetto by any means, but it sure wasn't Candyland either. There were a few known robberies that occurred in our neighborhood, and I was always thankful for never coming home and seeing our sixty-inch flat screen removed from the wall, or Lynne's jewelry box emptied.