It was one of those times when the whole world was this pale orangey rose color, a weird, unpleasant color that came out of the darkness and wouldn’t go away. And it was hot, too, somehow.
And, then—oh, it was light on my eyes, light filtered through my flesh. Eyelids. I thought about it, and opened my eyes. Squinted. A dog was looking at me. Small dog—long dog, grizzled brown. Wire-haired dachshund. He crouched down like he wanted to play. I pulled a pillow over my face and rolled away. The dog barked.
Later—a minute, an hour, a day—sometime later, a woman’s voice said, “Bear tells me you’re awake.”
I opened my eyes in the nice dim shade of the pillow. Awake. I peeked out—Sally Baldwin was standing in a doorway, looking at me. One hand on the door frame, the other on her hip. She was wearing gym shorts—she had a big orange and red starburst tattoo on her thigh. Never saw that before. Her leg like that.
“I know you’re awake.”
I asked, “What?”
I had this impulse to—burrow—further beneath the pillow, into the orange-scented sheets, but the pillow wasn’t that big. So I did the opposite. I pushed it away from my face and squinted at Sally.
Sally asked, “Do you remember anything?”
I asked, “Remember what?”
Sally was looking at me. Bear the dachshund was looking at me. I sort of scratched at my belly beneath the sheet and I was—naked.
“Man,” Sally said. “You were fucked up last night.”
I asked, “Yeah…?”
Sally sat on the foot of the bed and pulled Bear across me and hugged on him. I looked around. I was in a girl’s room, a woman’s room, orderly and clean. Sally’s room?
“Yeah, you were a mess,” Sally said.
I shut my eyes. I could remember—I think I could remember—Courtney and Ted staring at me.
“I was getting gas at the station next to Chrissy’s,” Sally said. “And you came fucking falling out of that place. Jesus.”
“Yeah, I know I was there,” I said thickly.
“I saw you there,” Sally said. She pinched my big toe. “You threw up all over the steps, and then you almost got hit by a car in the parking lot, and then you threw up again—”
“And by the time I got over to you, you were trying to unlock a car—I don’t think it was your car, though.”
I looked around the room. My keys and phone and billfold were all on a nightstand next to the bed.
“Some college kid helped me get you over to my car,” Sally said. “And then you passed out, totally out—and man, you were turning blue by the time we got here.” Sally let loose of Bear and stood up and looked down at me, smiling. “Good thing my husband was a heroin addict, huh?”
I guess I slept for a while, but then I kind of jolted around—bounced—and I opened my eyes and Sally was next to me in bed. The little dog jumped up on my belly. Oof.
“You don’t have to tell me about it,” Sally said. “Maybe you don’t remember.”
“No,” I said. “I remember.”
“I don’t remember how many times Neil overdosed,” Sally said. Neil, her ex-husband who was in prison in South Dakota. “Lots. It was a regular thing. That’s why the doctor always made sure I had a prescription for Norcan.”
“I was having dinner with Courtney and Ted,” I said.
“If I’d thought you were having an overdose, I would have taken you straight across the street to the ER. But I thought you were just stupid drunk, so I was taking you to your house. But then I was stopped at a light and I looked over and you were turning fucking blue—and I was only a block away so I came over here for the Norcan.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“You said thanks last night, too,” Sally said. “You remember?”
“Not really….” Bear was licking at my face.
“You thought I was Devon. And then when I got you out of your vomity clothes, you wanted to have sex.”
“Yeah, I don’t remember that,” I said. I closed my eyes. “You must’ve fucked my brains out, huh?”
“Funny.” Sally thought for a moment. “Neil got clean in prison. I think he likes it there—they have a literary magazine he writes for, and he likes that.”
“I’m pretty sure Courtney and Ted dosed me—or roofied me, or whatever,” I said. “And I think that’s how they killed Devon, too.”
Sally rolled over and faced me. She said, “You’re full of shit.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I’m right.”
I was tired. I wanted to go back to sleep—in my own bed, with Fuzzhead. But. I took a breath. I told Sally what had happened at Chrissy’s. I told her about what happened to Devon—the four wine glasses, the notebooks, the texts, the emails. I told her almost everything.
Sally asked, “Have you gone to the cops?”
I rolled over to face Sally—she was just inches away. The mattress was sagging a little, pulling us closer together. Sally’s eyes were clear and sharp.
“Yeah,” I said. “Lynnie figured we had to, and so we did—or, she did—but the cops weren’t too interested. They think it’s a suicide or an accident.” I thought about that. “So then we decided to try and trip up Fred, and get him to tell what kind of shit Courtney’s up to—and then he fucking killed himself!”
“Damn.” Sally rolled to her back and stared up at the ceiling for a while. She said, “This all actually makes sense.”
“It mostly makes sense,” I said. “I mean—I keep thinking things through and coming up the same way.”
Sally was quiet. Then she asked, “What’re you going to do about it?”
“Good question,” I said. I had a thought that echoed Lynnie—I’m an English professor, not a vigilante. Not the goddamn Batman. But, though, yeah—it was maybe up to me. I was maybe like Michael Corleone. There wasn’t anyone else! And they killed Devon. And they tried to kill me. I said, “You know, since fucking Fred shot himself, I haven’t done much more than watch.”
“I know the cops in this town,” Sally said. “They’re not going to do anything.”
“Yeah, I guess I need to do—something.”
“You need to take them down, right?” Sally asked. “I’ll help, if you want—I’m tired of this shit.”
I said, “Yeah….”
“And you’re not a drug addict?”
“Nope,” I said. I reached over and put my hand on her belly, soft and warm, and beneath the t-shirt I could feel her guts and her strong heart and all the things that made her her. She put her hands on top of mine and squeezed for a long moment.
“Good,” Sally said. Like she’d made a decision. She let go of my hand and rolled over to face me.
“Neil turned me off addicts forever.”
I put my hand at the small of her back and pulled her a bit closer. I looked into her eyes—green, clear, smart—and I leaned over to try and kiss her, but Sally pulled away.
“Not now, Holt!” Sally laughed. “You still have vomit breath!” She rolled out of bed and stood up. Bear the dog scrambled to his feet, too. “I did your laundry—your clothes are on the chair. Get dressed and I’ll take you back to your car.”
A week later, on Tuesday, my first teaching day after break, the phone rang just as I unlocked my office door. I hesitated before I picked it up.
“Tee wants to see you,” Sally said.
“Don’t know,” Sally said. “She’s got a bunch of things she’s working on, and you probably won’t like any of them. As usual.”
Sally hung up. Well, shit. I grabbed my notebook and went down the long hall to the departmental office. Tee was going to drop an anvil on my head, or a bucket of shit, or both—or maybe she was just going to fuss at me over some stupid rule I’d violated. No telling, and I didn’t really care. I just wanted to get it over with and go teach my classes and then go home.
I stuck my head into Sally’s office. “How do you always know when I get here?”
“Psychic.” Sally was staring into her computer screen. “Also, Tee keeps an eye on the parking lot—she sees when you drive up. You’re about the only professor who’s usually on time—you’re kind of predictable.”
That sounded somehow like a rebuke. Like I was boring. I said, “I’ll try to be more impulsive.”
Tee was staring into her computer screen, too. She didn’t look at me. She said, “Sit down.”
I sat down and played with my phone and ignored her. Lynnie had texted me a picture of Sugar being cute.
I texted her back
“I have something to show you.” Tee finally turned her chair around and reached for an envelope.
I wasn’t going to get a fussing, apparently. A bucket of shit, then.
“This came in the mail from Topeka,” Tee said. “It’s the official coroner’s report for Devon. I thought you should know.”
Tee pulled a sheet of paper from the envelope. She looked it over—she didn’t try to pass it to me.
“They say it was natural causes.” Tee really emphasized the word natural—drawing it out like it was sticky. She said, “They say she died of pneumonia.”
“Pneumonia?” I asked. “She didn’t have pneumonia.”
“The coroner says she did,” Tee said. Tee looked up from the letter at me. “And it killed her.”
I said, “Bullshit.”
Tee looked back at the letter. “Devon also had large amounts of drugs in her system, too—mainly Fentanyl.”
“Fentanyl?” I asked. A synthetic opioid. It’s what killed Prince—it’s what killed a lot of people.
It might have been what Courtney gave me for my overdose.
“Fentanyl, alcohol—she was legally drunk—and Xanax,” Tee said. “But—it wasn’t an accident, like you said it was. It was natural—well, an illness.”
“Why was she taking Fentanyl?” I asked.
“You’d know better than me,” Tee said. “And—he says here that Devon was about three months pregnant. And she’d had sex that night.”
Tee dropped the paper on her desk and stared at me. She looked tired and baggy, as always, with her moldy pale gray flesh, though she was wearing a new lipstick—an odd maroon color.
I said, “Pregnant.”
“Would you happen to know—anything about any of that?”
I didn’t think I’d heard her right. I asked, “What?”
“I asked—did you know anything about Devon’s—condition? Or if you saw her that night?”
Again, I didn’t think I heard her right. But of course I did hear her right.
I said, “Fuck you.”
Tee sat back, surprised. A fake surprise, I think. Mocking. She said, “Tom—”
“You are a goddamn piece of shit.”
I got up and walked out of Tee’s office, past the door to Sally’s office—I heard her yell, “Hey! What’s wrong?”—and down the hall. Someone was going to fucking pay and right then I didn’t care who and I didn’t care if I had to burn down goddamn Reeb Hall and everybody in it.