A park bench painted red.
The unsettling knifelike chill of fall draining to winter.
Amos Decker sat on the bench, waiting.
A sparrow zipped across in front of him, narrowly dodged a passing car before soaring upward, catching a breeze, and drifting away. He noted the make, model, plate number, and physical descriptions of all in the car before it left him. Husband and wife in the front, and a kid in the back in a booster seat. Another one next to him, older. About ten. The rear bumper had a sticker.
It read, MY KID IS AN HONOR ROLL STUDENT AT THORNCREST ELEMENTARY.
Congrats, you've just told a psycho exactly where to snatch your very smart kid. Then a bus rolled to a near stop. He ran his gaze over it, making the same observations. Fourteen passengers, most looking depressed and tired though it was still only midday. One was energetic, a child. He bebopped next to his exhausted mother, who sat slumped over, a fat bag perched in her lap. The driver was a newbie, her face a sheet of nervousness. Even with the power steering she fought the wheel and took the next turn so slow it looked like the bus's engine had died. A plane soared overhead, low enough for him to ID it as a United 737, a later model because of the winglets. With the number 737, for him the color silver popped out. The number 737 was, in his mind, a beautiful concoction. Sleek, silver, fast, bulletlike. Anything beginning with a seven gave him that reaction. He appreciated that Boeing Corporation numbered all their aircraft beginning with seven.
Two young men walked past. Observed, recorded. One was older, bigger, the alpha, the other was the sidekick, only there for laughs and to push around. Then he noted the four kids playing in the park cross the street. Age, rank, serial number, pecking order, and hierarchy established before age six, like a pack of wolves. Done. Next, a woman with a dog. A German shepherd. Not that old but with bad hips. Probably dysplasia, common in the breed. Cataloged. A man jabbering away on his smartphone. Zegna suit, the G for Gucci on the slick shoes, quarter-sized rock set in a gold band on his left hand, like a Super Bowl ring. Four-thousand-dollar Zenith watch on his right wrist. He was too small and the wrong build for a pro athlete. Dressed far too nicely for a typical drug dealer. Maybe a hedge fund manager, malpractice lawyer, or real estate developer. Memory socked away.
On the other side of the street an old woman in a wheelchair was being rolled out of a medical transport van. Her left side was useless, facial paralysis on the same side. Stroke. Documented. Her caregiver had mild scoliosis with a clubfoot. Imprinted. Amos Decker noted all of this and more as his mind sorted through everything that was in front of him. Deducing here and there. Speculating sometimes. Guessing other times. None of it meant anything other than it was just what he did to pass the time while he was waiting. Just like counting in color. Just what he did to pass the time. He had lost the house to foreclosure. They were barely making the payments with his and Cassie's salary. On his paycheck alone it was a no-go. He had tried to sell it, but who wanted to live in a house covered in blood?
He'd lived in an apartment for several months. Then a motel room. Then, when his job situation changed, he had relocated to a friend's couch. After the friend became less friendly he had opted for a homeless shelter. When funding ran out for the place and it was closed, he "downsized" to a sleeping bag in the park. Then a cardboard box in a parking lot when the sleeping bag wore out and the cops rousted the homeless from the park. He had hit rock bottom. Bloated, dirty, wild-haired, bushy-bearded, he looked like he should be living in a cave somewhere attempting to spire with aliens. And he pretty much was until he woke up in a Walmart parking lot one morning staring at a Georgia-Pacific logo on the inside of his corrugated box and had the churning epiphany that Cassie and Molly would have been deeply ashamed of what he had become. So he had cleaned himself up, worked a bunch of odd jobs, saved some dollars, and moved into a room at the Residence Inn and hung out his PI shingle.
He took whatever cases came his way; they were mostly lowball, low pay, but they were something. And he didn't need more than something. It was a meaningless existence, really, just like he was, meaningless. His beard was still bushy, his hair still pretty wild, and he was still way overweight, but his clothes were reasonably clean and he showered, sometimes more than once a week. And he no longer lived in a box. Progress was always to be measured in inches, especially when you didn't have yards or even feet of success to show off. He closed his eyes to block out his recent street observations, though it was all still there, like a cinema screen on the inside of his eyeballs. It would always still be there. He often wanted to forget what he had just seen. But everything in his head was recorded in permanent marker. He either dialed it up when needed or it popped up on its own accord. The former was helpful, the latter infinitely frustrating. When the cops had come that night, they had talked him out of eating a round from his pistol. He had thought many times since of killing himself. So much so that he'd gone to therapy to work around that little issue. He'd even done group counseling and stood in front of a circle of like-minded suicidals. I am Amos Decker. I want to kill myself. Period. End of story.
He opened his eyes. Fifteen months, twenty-one days, twelve hours, fourteen minutes. Because of what he was, the clock was spinning in the forefront of his mind. That was the span of time that had passed since he had discovered the three bodies in his home, his family wiped out. And in sixty seconds it would be fifteen minutes plus the year, months, and days. And on and on it would go.
He looked down at himself. A four-year college football player and an a professional for an extraordinarily short stint, he had kept fit as a cop and later a detective. But he had not bothered with any of that after officially identifying the bodies of his wife, brother-in-law, and daughter. He was fifty pounds overweight, probably more. Probably a lot more. Sixfive and a blimp with bum knees. His gut was soft and pushed out, his arms and chest flabby, his legs two meat sticks. He could no longer see even his overly long feet. His hair was also long, peppered liberally with gray, and not very clean. It seemed perfectly suited to conceal a mind that by forgetting nothing managed to let him down all the time. His beard was startling both for its bulk and its for chaotic appearance, wisps and curls and stray strands meandering everywhere like vines searching for purchase on something. But he told himself it was good for his line of work. He had to go chase scum, and scum, by definition, did not often look mainstream. Indeed, they often ran from it. He touched the threadbare patch on his jeans and then looked down at the knees where the bloodstains were still visible. Her blood. Cassie's blood. Morbid to still have it there.
Burn the pants, Amos. Most normal people would have done that.
But I'm not normal. I haven't been normal since I stepped on that field and took that hit. The hit was the only thing he had never remembered.
Ironic, since it was the catalyst for his never forgetting anything else. But it had been played relentlessly on the sports shows at the time. And even the national news felt the need to document the violence done to him to their countrywide audience. Someone told him the snippet had even been uploaded to YouTube a few years ago and had over eight million views. And yet he had never seen it. He didn't have to. He'd been there. He'd felt it. That was enough. And all he had done to deserve the folderol of attention was to die on a football field, not once, but twice.
He ran a furtive, mostly embarrassed glance down at his jeans. His gut hung over the waistband because he'd been thinner back then. He had washed them, but the bloodstains had not come out. Why should they be different from his brain? The pants could have, should have been evidence. Let the cops take them, but they hadn't, and he hadn't offered. He kept them, wore them still. Stupid way of remembering. Asinine, really. Horribly macabre way of keeping Cassie with him. Like toting her ashes in a Scooby-Doo lunchbox. But then again, he wasn't really okay. Even though he had a place to live, held a job, and was functioning, for the most part. He really wasn't okay. He would never be okay in any way.
About the book:
When Amos Decker returned home eighteen months ago to find the bodies of his wife and only daughter, he didn't think he could carry on living. Overwhelmed with grief, he saw his life spiral out of control, losing his job as a detective, his house and his self-respect. But when his former partner in the police, Mary Lancaster, visits to tell him that someone has confessed to the murder of his family, he knows he owes it to his wife and child to seek justice for them.
As thrilling as they come, Memory Man will ensure that you remain on the edge of your seat.
Excerpt from First Love
- Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev
Excerpt from Dark Places
- Gillian Flynn