Excerpt: Baby’s on Fire

For what seemed like the hundredth time, the traffic in front of Gerry Faun came to a slow-rolling halt. It was the rain doing the most damage, though the end of the workday was always ugly on the streets of New York City. Not that there were many pretty things on the street, regardless. Giuliani was trying, but the way Gerry had it figured, it was going to take more than a smile and a stand on graffiti and marijuana to clean up their kind of dirt. So while the rest of the city offered the mayor awe-induced stares of appreciation over recollections of Mafia Commission and Boesky trials, Gerry mostly sat back and speculated. When government officials got clever enough to stop assholes from blowing up pregnant secretaries and hard-working fathers, then they might actually get his attention. Until then, Gerry wasn’t putting any more trust in them than he would anybody else. He’d learned a long time ago that not all that glitters is worthy.

He was lost in thought enough not to acknowledge the tunnel. He was, in fact, well into it before he remembered to take off his sunglasses. He forgave himself the digression. It had been a long week. Though Gerry worked in the financial district, he was no more than a glorified yes-man for his boss, a real estate broker that had made a fuck-ton of money in the eighties, and was merely coasting until the inevitable retirement. He ran errands and answered phones. He took messages, and booked flights that he was more than sure did not drop Mr. David Manon in places of business. He made reservations in exclusive restaurants, paid Mr. Manon’s membership fees for a gym the man never went to, and bought Manon’s anniversary and birthday gifts for the wife-of-the-moment. Gerry had a flair for it, or so his boss would tell him whenever the requirement came up, and Gerry was cocky enough to verbally agree with Manon every time. Damn right he was good at it.

Tail lights suddenly flared in front of him and Gerry cursed and slammed his brake pedal down. His eyes flicked between windshield and rearview, assessing space and distance, and he blew a sigh of relief when he confirmed that the guy behind him had been paying more attention than he’d been. Maybe it really was time to give up the car.

He’d heard it a thousand times from friends, family, and casual observers: public transport would not only save him money, but they swore up and down it would save him time. God knew gasoline was getting more expensive by the day, and parking costs in the district were insane. Gerry considered it pretty much every time the numbers went up on the billboards beside the gas stations. One day he would, he’d tell himself. One day for sure. When he could convince himself that walking the six blocks from the bus stop in Jersey’s bitter January winds wouldn’t be as appealing as slitting his own throat with barbed wire. When he got over his control issues.

The side road whereby Gerry’s rental home waited for his return was already jammed with cars, so instead of parking on the street, Gerry carefully worked his 1984 Buick into the tiny concrete pad that served as his driveway. He nudged the car as close to the house as it would go, wincing when the fender butted against the foundation and the ancient bow window above him shook with disapproval. While some of the properties on the street had given up parking for an attempt at a front lawn, Gerry couldn’t see the point of bothering to maintain a six-by-eight square of greenery and have to fight for a place to park every day. Besides, what was the point? In the summer everything got so damn hot that his neighbors’ plants and grass got their lives choked out of them. In the winter, anything that had managed to get a hold on the Earth was quickly destroyed by the cold and the snow.

Looking, he was sure, about as sexy as a maggot trying to escape from a nostril, Gerry inched out from between his car and the base of the entranceway steps. His suit wasn’t worth that much, but it was worth too much to go rubbing it up against rain-mucked concrete or the wet door of a car that hadn’t seen an auto-wash in months. His breath puffed out from between his lips, the rain making October that much colder, and Gerry lifted his eyes to the sky. Dark, ominous clouds roiled in the gray heavens, and Gerry had serious doubts that the light rainfall was all the skies had in store for them.

In the second it took for Gerry to muse, a deep rumble of thunder broke, a distant sheet of lightning answered the call with a flare of brilliance, and the drizzle became a downpour. Without bothering to spit out the curse on his tongue, Gerry ran for the front door. The porch roof did nothing to protect him as the rain whipped against his back and legs, and he had to seat the key twice before it finally dug in and allowed him to open the door.

Dripping, mumbling, Gerry slammed the door behind him with a definitive clunk and flicked the deadbolt. He kicked off his shoes, sighing as small rivers of water raced across the lopsided flooring of the hallway, and he began to peel off of his wet clothes right where he stood. He might as well only drown one part of the house, and at least that particular location was vinyl tile. Most of the house had decades-old carpeting that, when wet, released all kinds of odors. None of them good.

With his wet clothes piled in his arms, Gerry stepped gingerly down the narrow hallway, and ducked into the bathroom. He dumped the armload into the tub, and grabbed a towel off the rack.

He didn’t pause to look in the mirror and fix his hair. The cut was short, short enough in fact that he barely had to brush it, and that always seemed to make his sister chuckle when she saw him. There was a time when God himself wouldn’t have been able to get him to cut his hair—when the arguments with his parents would grow to screaming matches over the bangs in his face and the uneven lengths that fell past his collar. But everybody grew up. Eventually.

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