An excerpt from Down Solo
One of the advantages of being dead is that people don’t expect you to get up and walk away. I don’t imagine it happens often at the morgue, anyway, or they would take precautions against it. Not that I think I’m the first to remain awake through the entire process of dying, or even of one’s own murder, perfectly aware of the bullet smacking into my skull, tunneling through my brain, bouncing off bone, and ricocheting around like a bee in a bottle.
I must have blacked out for a bit after it happened. There was a roaring sound, like a hurricane, that drowned out anything from the outside and made thinking impossible.
When the roaring subsided, I woke up disoriented before I realized where I was: disembodied and looking down at the mess that was once me, lying naked on a gurney. I roamed around the room, light as a whisper, fast as a thought, and then returned to the body. When I got close enough, it pulled me in like an inhalation, and suddenly I felt the heaviness of physical being again. It took me a while to figure out that I could move my fingers, stretch, sit up, and even see through my own eyes. Running the body was cumbersome, like wearing a gorilla suit.
The clock on the wall says it’s four. I assume it’s at night since the joint is so dead.
As an experiment, I disengage from the body again. This time, I roam the entire place to check for anyone working the late shift, but no one is around except for a technician in a bathroom stall. I re-enter the body, get off the gurney, and shuffle over to a stainless steel tub with a hose hanging above it. I climb in and turn the water on. Some real shampoo would be nice, but at least there’s a dispenser with disinfectant soap. Eventually, I get all the blood out of my hair. The hole in my head is weird and I want to poke around in it, but I have stuff to do so I climb out, dry off with a lab apron, and go looking for a stiff my size that has some clothes I can put on.
So here I am in Doc Martens boots, black Levis, and a white tee shirt. The only six-foot-two male body I could find was a goddamned skinhead with a big Aryan Nations tattoo and huge muscles. I hope he doesn’t get up and start walking around.
There’s a clipboard at the end of my gurney. It has a report on it that says “Unidentified male, COD gunshot wound to head.”
I need a plan. I’m jonesing pretty bad, so, bail out of the morgue, score some dope to tide me over, and then on to the next order of business: finding out who killed me. The easiest way to do that, I figure, is to visit everyone I know and see who looks surprised.
It’s time to split.
¤ ¤ ¤
Good luck. Nazi-boy’s jeans still had a wallet with over forty bucks in it. Not enough for what I need, but enough to get me home. I call a cab from a phone booth on Mission. The cabbie is a small, wiry African man with sharp, chiseled features. He’s wearing a red-and-black Rasta tam that bulges in the back like a bag of snakes. A slender gold crucifix dangles from his right ear. The ID on his visor says his name is Daniel; his last name is unpronounceable. When he sees me reading it, Daniel says, “It means ‘God is my judge.’”
I say, “My name’s Charlie, so who’s going to be my judge?”
He looks at me in the rearview mirror and chuckles. “I’ll be your judge, Charlie Miner.” I may be the dead guy, but this hack is starting to creep me out. I don’t recall mentioning my last name. When we get to my house, he tells me he doesn’t need my money and that he’ll see me around. He gives me a business card and tells me to call him in the morning. When I get out he says, “You really don’t remember me, do you?”
¤ ¤ ¤
It’s a decent little house on Beethoven Street, right off Venice Boulevard. I start for the hide-a-key that I keep under the empty planter, but I don’t need it: the door is cracked open, the jamb splintered and gone.
I leave my body and roam for a few seconds, all it takes to scout the living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. When I get back, I find the body collapsed on the doorstep. I can see that this is going to take some practice. I slip back in and pick myself up, then push the door open and take a real look. My living room serves as my office, and someone has gone through my desk in a hurry. My PC is gutted and my laptop gone, along with the stack of recent case files I kept on my desk. The rest of the house is turned upside down. I want to look around some more, but it’s six in the morning and I need to go score.
At least the phone line is live. I go through the kitchen to the door that connects to the garage and find my 280Z, keys in the ignition, and my wallet on the passenger seat. Which brings up the obvious questions: Where was I killed? And how did I get there?
I go to my bedroom and grab an Angels cap that I put on sideways, pulling the visor down to cover the bullet hole. I walk back to the kitchen and dial Jimmy Ortiz’s number. He answers like he always does, “Sup, man?” Six a.m., six p.m., he doesn’t care. And he doesn’t sound surprised to hear my voice.
“It’s me, Charlie. Can I come over?”
Jimmy lives a few miles west in the Kingswood Arms, a tall domino of an apartment building jutting up over the small boat harbor in Marina Del Rey. He buzzes me in and I take the elevator to his penthouse suite.
You don’t see a lot of junkie body builders. Most of them are into steroids, some into speed, but Jimmy is a China-white man, although he looks tanned and healthy.
“Yo, Charlie, howzitgoin’ my man?” He puts his huge mitt out and hauls me in with a handshake. We settle at his dining room table, the center of operations, home to his digital scale, three-line telephone, iPhone, video monitor for the hallway outside his apartment, wireless laptop, and other accoutrements of his trade.
Jimmy offers me a glass of Jack Daniels, which I throw down in one swallow. No effect at all. He slides a bindle across the table, along with a new syringe, a spoon, ball of cotton, and a cigarette lighter. I go through my routine, watch the white powder heat up and bubble, suck it up into the syringe through the cotton, push out the air until fluid comes up through the needle, and tie off with some surgical tubing that Jimmy graciously provides. Bang! I slap it in, push the plunger, and wait. Jimmy watches me the whole time, grinning like I’m his kid blowing out birthday candles.
I wait a minute, and when nothing happens Jimmy says, “Jesus, man, you must have missed the vein.”
It’s useless, but I can’t tell him that. Instead, I just say, “Forget about it. Listen, I got a problem.”
“A problem? If that hit didn’t put you on the floor you need to check into rehab pronto! And hey, bro, you ain’t lookin’ too good. I gotta worry about you?” Now he’s my grandmother too.
I get out my wallet and toss him my last fifty. “You don’t know the half of it,” I tell him.
“Somebody nailed me with a baseball bat while I wasn’t looking. There’s whole chunks of time in the past few days that I can’t remember.”
“Do you remember last time you were here?” He slides the money into a leather billfold he once bought at Harrod’s. He likes expensive things and doesn’t need some goof like me messing things up for him.
I try to remember. It feels like peering into the fog at dusk. I say, “No, man, I can’t picture it. I remember watching True Detective last night. How dumb is that?”
Jimmy looks at his watch and says, “Well, shit, it’s Wednesday morning. You were here last night to cop. Hey, bro, I still got your phone, you left it here. And we met across the street yesterday afternoon. We had drinks and you were with some new chick—she was somethin’ else. You gotta remember her, at least.” Across the street is the Cheesecake Factory. Jimmy does business there occasionally, especially if I have company that isn’t aware of our transactions.
Memory is a funny thing. You can be standing in a hall with a row of locked doors, then you get a key and walk into a fully furnished room that, until then, might as well not have existed.
¤ ¤ ¤
The room, in this case, was my living room/office. I was pretending to work but was really playing online poker when the doorbell rang. I was annoyed until I opened the door and saw the girl standing there.
She was Eurasian—half Irish, half Japanese, I found out later—small but feisty looking, with long black hair and clear hazel eyes. She was stunning, even in jeans and a paint-spattered Looney Tunes sweatshirt. Lizard-skin cowboy boots gave her an extra inch and a half, but her attitude put her somewhere around six foot six. She was carrying a Zero Halliburton attaché, which she used as a battering ram to push by me and into my house. Then she sat in the chair across the desk from me and put her boot heels on the copy of the LA Times that was next to my computer monitor.
“So you’re the famous Charlie Miner.”
“Maybe you’re looking for Charlie Major.”
“I don’t know, but he might be famous.” This was not an auspicious beginning to our relationship.