The Grim Room (chapter 9)
My thriller novel, chapter 9
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“What are you doing, shooting Roger Rabbit?” Julian said.
Chris startled, coming out of his trance. He’d been thinking about The Grim Room, about Kid. His old Glock-17 was in his right hand. He’d been reminiscing about his cell.
“I’m gonna pawn it, remember? Can I borrow the Chevelle?”
Julian stared at his brother, the Glock swiveling in a circular motion around Chris’s pointer finger, around and around and around. It stopped, pointed right at Julian. “Pow!” Chris said, drawing back after he “shot” Julian, as if he were John Wayne in an old Western.
Julian tossed the keys to Chris. “Get your money’s worth for that thing.”
Shoving the Glock into the back of his Levi’s, Chris stepped out to the staircase, his brother’s voice rushing through his swirling thoughts.
“And Chris. Don’t be long. I have some business to attend to.”
Chris cut north to Judah Street, then headed east towards Cole Valley and what would eventually lead him to downtown. He’d checked the internet using his brother’s computer and found a pawn shop—named Fillmore Pawn—on the corner of McAllister and Laguna Street, in the Fillmore District. And, near that, was a noon AA meeting, which he was going to attend, called God As We Understand Him. Then he would be stopping by Blue Oak Therapy Center, on 29th Avenue and Geary, and finally he’d head back to his brother’s apartment and use the computer to start pumping out a basic job resume.
He’d never worked a real job before—he’d been dealing since he was a teenager—and he was scared, full of fear really, but he would walk through it. If he could walk through Folsom, he could walk through finding work on the outside. With Rebecca by his side, he could do anything.
Tomorrow, after hitting the pavement for jobs for a few hours: Rebecca. Finding her meant Silver Part II. The past few days he’d taken his brother’s advice, steering clear. But that was a dam obviously meant to burst prematurely. Though he’d enjoyed walking on Ocean Beach, and taking in the freedom of being out of prison, he was also more than ready to move forward with his life, and, other than his practical goals, that meant finding his elusive ex.
The dinner with Julian had been nice, actually. Julian made a tasty Angel Hair with marinara sauce, turkey meatballs, and garlic bread. They ate at the table like normal people; like brothers.
The conversation drifted between Julian’s experience selling the old Venice house after Chris went away, to how Silver came to be in the Bay Area, to Chris’s time in the pen. No arguments. They were both on good behavior. Chris appreciated the meal and they even washed the dishes together, Julian splashing dirty dish water at Chris like they’d done fifteen years ago when their parents weren’t paying attention.
Chris longed for old times. For the comfort and safety of his father being there, of his mother’s pasta dinners and Guinness Beef Stew, of Julian always being around, before all the trouble. He could almost smell the old kitchen—the one his folks hand-built themselves in the 80s—the garlic and Italian seasoning and marinara sauce; the rising steam from fat plates of tortellini and capellini; the Irish potato cakes. His father coming home from work, content, kissing his mom; the four of them a happy middleclass family. Normal. The ocean blocks from home. Everything had been…good.
Passing a bar called Smuggler’s Cove—on McAllister—Chris slowed the blue beast down and stopped the car, its faded baby blue exterior shining in the midday sun. The loud engine rumbled; the windows slightly rattled. A bar. God: He’d thought about drinking, but the thought of actually going to a bar somehow never entered his mind. He was thirsty. Jim B.’s voice rushed to his mind: When you’re feeling squirrely, pick up the phone and call another alcoholic. Say the Third Step Prayer. Be of service. Anything to get out of your own crazy brain, Chris. Hell, say the serenity prayer. Anything. He still hadn’t received a callback from his sponsor.
Chris found an open spot and parked the beast. Staring out the window, he watched an old black man wearing a gray fedora walking with a cane down the block. He didn’t need a drink. He needed Rebecca. Like an old, warm blanket, she’d comfort him. But that sensual, loving, sick call of alcohol: It drew him.
Willie Nelson was playing when he walked in. On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again, the life I love is making music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again…
With the western dual a la Julian earlier and Nelson on the jukebox, Chris felt like he was really in a John Wayne flick. He felt the bulging Glock tucked behind his jeans. Even without the bullets—Julian had thrown them out—he felt powerful. A flood of memories fell upon him. He’d never actually had to pull it on anyone, but he’d always felt safer with it on his person.
The place was dark. Red pulsing lights. Old pulleys and rope and an anchor in the corner the size of the Chevelle. Chris picked a stool—the place was deserted—and squinted at the bartender. Hey Red, someone yelled from the corner—me n’ the lady’ll have another Tecate!
Red walked over, along the bar, dishrag over his shoulder. Crossing his arms over his chest, Red said, “I.D.?”
Chris withdrew his old card.
Red took it, bent the top corner slightly with his finger, looked at it and back to Chris skeptically. “This card’s outdated—expired almost a year ago, if my math’s right.”
Chris shrugged. “I’ll turn 30 this spring. You gonna serve me or not?”
Red smirked at the card, squeezing his eyes, focusing. “What’ll it be, sailor?”
“What do you recommend?”
“That’s what it’ll be.”
Red tromped off down the bar. Chris eyed the tall wall of liquor bottles. Jesus: This was like being a kid in a candy store. Only this candy could kill you.
Chris said a quick prayer in his head—thanking God for his freedom—and waited for the drink to arrive. Red appeared with the shot. Chris felt nervous now. Once he drank, who knew what would happen. He’d likely be off to the races, as they said in AA circles. AA and all their damn sayings and acronyms, like G.O.D. (Group of Drunks), or “Keep it simple,” and “A day at a time.”
Chris carefully lifted the drink and held it close to his nose. Sniffing, he smelled the scent of the rum; it was like gasoline but in a good way. Strong. He could drink all day. He lifted the glass to his lips, started to tip it into his mouth. A quarter of an inch from destiny, he stopped.
God, grant me the serenity… Chris started. Oh, hell. Did he really want to do this? What would be waiting for him on the other, darker side of a relapse? He’d surely not stop at one drink, and he’d likely do something stupid. Good Lord: no way he’d go back to The Grim Room. And he didn’t truly want to lose his freedom or sobriety. Chris was proud of his two-plus. He could even sponsor some young kid one day, carry the AA message, be of service. That was the whole idea, right?
He lowered the glass to the bar, rested it there, and removed his hand. Chris snatched his change, spreading out three singles in a fan like a deck of cards. Pulling at the collar of his motorcycle jacket, he stepped off the stool, did the sign of the cross, and walked past the bartender back into the blazing sunlight.
Red watched him like a hawk.