Alan DeNiro’s “A Rendition”

nure-onna

Patrick was a key component of their plan. His first order of business was cleaning out his mom’s minivan. His mom was at a business conference somewhere warm. He parked the minivan in the driveway and opened the back-hatch. He then removed the boxes of his mom’s sales brochures, his sister’s field hockey equipment, and a wasteland of empty pop cans and potato chip bags. It was clammy and cold outside. After putting all of the junk down in the garage and throwing the trash away, he ran the cord for the vacuum cleaner to the minivan. He gave the whole van a good cleaning, and sprayed the upholstery down with Febreze. The plan didn’t require the fresh scent of “Mountain Rain” to work, but he wanted to make sure the van didn’t smell bad for the rendition.

He was feeling well-rested and ready, in the middle of a week of unpaid leave of absence. He was a custodian for the university where he used to study, where the professor taught. His supervisors were more than glad to give him leave. So glad that he wondered if he would have a job when he came back.

After he finished and parked the van back in the garage, Tristana called him. Tristana was his ex-girlfriend, though they were still on good terms. They had to be, in order to fulfill the plan. She was in the paralegal program in the university–where he studied before he got kicked out–and worked as an administrative assistant in the law school. More importantly, she worked two offices down from the professor.

“Yeah, so.” Tristana sighed. “How do you feel?”

“Fine, I guess.”

“Are you feeling angry about the professor? Rageful? I mean, you’re not going to let your emotions get in the way of things?”

“I don’t think so,” Patrick said. For him, executing the plan was never about righteous anger. Sure, there was an abstract belief in a just cause, and in a way he was afraid of the professor, though the professor himself, aside from his ideas, posed little threat. And he wasn’t even really afraid of getting caught. Instead, the plan for him was a form of self-discovery; to throw himself into a project that would define who he was. It would allow him to see himself in a different light.

“Good,” Tristana said. “Emotions can be destructive in situations like this. They really cloud things.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, we’ll meet at your place at dawn—uh, that’s 5:57. Got that?”

“Got it—oh shit.”

“What?”

“I forgot to tape up the windows of the minivan.”

“Well you better get on that. I gotta fill out some briefs now. Later.”

“Later.”

He was in line at Walgreens purchasing tape when he got a call from Evan. Evan was the bona fide leader of their group. He was a real anarchist. He went to a lot of protests with bags of blood to throw at police. He had been arrested seven times and Patrick wondered if he was sleeping with Tristana.

“How are you feeling?” Evan said.

“Tristana asked me the same thing.”

“She would. We’re like, one mind,” he said. Then, “We’re all like one mind.”

“Uh-huh. I feel fine.” He fumbled in his pocket for a dime to finish paying for the duct tape. The woman behind him with two kids pulling at her knees rolled her eyes. She would never know about the plan. The cashier, giving him the receipt and the bag with the duct tape, would never know about the plan.

“What, you going zen on me?” Evan asked. He said zen like it was a curse word. “I don’t want you to feel ‘fine.’ You have to, you know, listen to your heart. And your heart should be fucking pissed.” Evan and the static on his end intertwined, as if the hissing interference was coming from his throat.

“Okay,” Patrick said. “Listen. I’m angry. You can’t hear it on the phone, but I am.”

“Patrick, this is going to be great,” Evan said. “It’s going to be a fun weekend. The farmhouse, it’s nice. It’s really nice. I have a ton of beer too.”

“That’s good,” Patrick said, though he didn’t know if he would be in the mood for getting wasted during execution of the plan.

“Okay, look, I have to go,” Evan said in a slightly exasperated tone, as if Patrick was the one who had called him. “I have to print out the manual at the copy shop.”

“Great, see you tomorrow.”

Evan hung up and Patrick laughed as he started the van.

Back in his driveway, he got to work on the windows. The air was still damp, so he wasn’t sure if he was getting a good seal with the duct tape on the window. And the tape was clinging to the newspaper. After about a half hour, he had all of the back windows taped up with the newspaper. He tossed the duct tape roll onto the front seat. They would need more of that later. He lay in the back for a few minutes, watching the translucent light filter through the news of the world and its ads. Only the ads for flat-screen televisions would not let the light sift through, black rectangles like those monoliths from 2001. At last, he closed his eyes. He was excited. He was starting to feel something.

 

#

“Is that Febreze?” Evan asked while Patrick was driving the van.

“Yeah,” Patrick said. Evan was wearing his black bandana over his nose and mouth, so Patrick wasn’t sure how he could smell anything.

“It’s nice. Really nice.”

They were on the outskirts of town, past the last outposts of the higher-end outlet malls. Patrick was driving the van well within the legal speed limit. Evan and Tristana were in the back seat, and the professor was lying down in the back-back. The duct tape, the interrogation manual, and their box of clothes and sundries were riding shotgun. Evan’s uncle’s old farmhouse was about fifteen minutes away.

The professor started flailing around and mumbling.

“Hey, hey,” Evan said. “Sit.” He leaned over the seat and beat the professor on the shoulder blade with his billy club a few times. The professor screamed, though the duct tape muzzled most of the sound. Tristana laughed and ran her hand through Evan’s stringy braids. Patrick turned his attention back to the road. He thought the minivan would have attracted more attention on campus but on a Monday morning there were few students and workers around. The execution of the first part of the plan was flawless.

“I have your dossier in the front seat here,” Evan said. “You’re, like, a fucking monster.”

The professor bucked his head around. His glasses flew off his face and underneath the seat.

“Whoa, you’ll break your glasses, professor,” Tristana said. She leaned down and fished under the seat for the glasses. Patrick watched her from his rearview mirror and saw her t-shirt ride up. He saw the tattoo on her lower back – a series of Sumerian cuneiforms that she told him was the ancient word for freedom – for the first time since they broke up. Tristana found the glasses, folded them, and put them in her purse.

There was a long honk outside and the flash of a white roofing van. The van was inches away from the window.

“Jesus, Patrick, you ran that stop sign!” Evan said.

The other van stopped, and then sputtered forward in the intersection again.

Patrick wasn’t sure whether to slow down more or speed up.

“Sorry, sorry,” Patrick said, his face flush. He sped up. “That sign…it wasn’t there a couple weeks ago.”

He knew the excuse was insufficient.

“What the fuck would have happened…” Evan began, but Tristana put a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Evan. No harm, no foul.”

Evan sighed and then leaned over the seat. “What do you think professor? What is your expert opinion? No harm, no foul?”

The professor didn’t say anything, and couldn’t say anything. Evan continued to pester him until they reached the farmhouse but Patrick didn’t pay attention to any of it, focusing on the road with the efficiency of a vice.

The farm was desolate, set in a sloping valley with an abandoned apple orchard. Evan said that there were limestone caves underneath the main house. His great-great uncle had mined a tunnel that connected the storm basement to those caves. “No one knows where they end,” Evan had said in one of their planning sessions in Tristana’s flat. No one had lived at the farm for ten years, and in that time the house and the other buildings had fallen into severe disrepair. The front porch of the house sagged and bowed. The front door was ripped off and an upside-down lawn tractor blocked the gape. The grain silo, shorn of its shingles, looked like a stone obelisk from an interplanetary civilization. The barn’s paint was fading. Many of the fence posts on the property had been knocked over or driven over.

“We’re home,” Evan said. “Park outside the barn.”

Patrick parked there and the three of them got out. Evan opened the back-hatch and yanked at the professor’s collar, pulling him out and to the ground.

“Black site,” Evan said. “Black site. You are now leaving the United States of America. You are in the Kingdom of Tyrannia now.” He pulled down his bandana for a second and scratched his nose. “You are not a citizen here. You don’t have any rights here, on account of the accords that our country has signed with the underworld. Do you understand?”

The professor looked up at him and said nothing.

Evan laughed. “All right, all right. I’m throwing a lot at you. Come on.” He took the professor by the shoulder and helped him up. The professor complied. Evan had come up with the name of Tyrannia during one of their brainstorming sessions. Patrick felt like he was watching a movie on DVD, with a bored director’s commentary offering distant opinions on whatever they were doing. We chose the farmhouse on account of the caves. It was a great set. A great set. Uh, and we knew the professor would be scared there…

“Patrick can you get the stuff in the front seat?” Tristana asked. She now had the professor’s glasses on her forehead.

“Sure.” What was Patrick’s motivation? Well, that’s a good question. He took a class with the professor — a long time ago — and that’s why he was expelled. He plagiarized his first paper in the class…uh, I think it was on the separation of powers…

“Thanks.” She gave him a warm smile that he knew was manipulation, but he didn’t care. He took the box and shut the door with the back of his heel. As he went up the stairs, Tristana called out from inside the house, “Watch out for that last step. You’ll fall through.” Patrick edged around the step and then the upside-down tractor. He could hear the other three in the basement. The living room had been a hideout for local kids with BB guns, beer, and huffing addictions – targets taped up on the walls with bull’s-eyes blasted through on the outlined heads, breasts, and groins; shattered bottles of MGD littering the floor; glue canisters. In the kitchen there was a twenty-year-old snowmobile and the oven was ripped out. He went down the stone stairs and the air changed from rancid to something colder and cleaner.

In the basement Tristana and Evan were preparing the site. The professor was sitting Indian style on the dirt floor. He was coughing. Patrick set the materials down. In one of the corners he could see a natural archway and a dark opening, which must have been one of the tunnels that Evan talked about.

“Aha,” Tristana said, finding the pliers in the box underneath a bag of Sun Chips. She twirled them on her finger like a six shooter. “There they are.”

“Okay, remember,” Evan said, rubbing his hands together and standing over the professor. Everyone’s breath was visible. “The point of this exercise is to, you know, gather relevant information about what he knows.” He took a chair from the corner and scraped it to the center of the room. Tristana hoisted the professor onto the chair. The professor was tipping.

“Don’t fall over,” she said. “Shit, Ev, do you think we should tie him to the chair?”

“Hmm,” Evan said. “Then we would have to cut his hands free. I don’t know.”

“What does it say in the manual?” Tristana said.

“Right.” Evan sifted through the box that Patrick had brought in and found the Interrogation Manual. “Uh, shit,” he said to the professor. “You should know. You wrote this, didn’t you?”

“I don’t think he wrote it,” Tristana said. “He wrote the legal memos for the Department of Justice that allowed the manual to come into being.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Evan said, looking peeved. “It was, I don’t know, a grandiose metaphor.” He turned to Patrick. “How about you bring down the cooler of beer that I brought here yesterday? It should still be cold.”

Patrick hesitated. “Sure, where is it?”

“By the door, I think.” Evan had already turned back to the manual. Tristana ripped off the duct tape covering the professor’s mouth, and he screamed. The noise was muffled by the walls.

Patrick’s face was hot as he went up the stairs. Evan’s commanding attitude was beginning to annoy him. Evan wasn’t recognizing Patrick’s role in the plan, or that they were a small society of equals. And wasn’t that harmony the point of the plan? It was Patrick after all, who first come up with the plan. He would have to say something at some point to Evan – and Tristana. He found the cooler by the fireplace, not by the door as Evan had said, and took a beer from it. After the second beer, he saw Tristana standing in front of him.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she said.

He shrugged and stood up from the cooler. “I’m bringing this downstairs.”

“Yeah, like, an hour later,” she said. “You need to stop pouting, Patrick. This is very stressful for Evan.”

“Evan? That’s who you’re worried about?”

“A little.” She took one of the beers from the cooler, took a few swallows, and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. “He’s under a lot of pressure.”

“We all are.”

“No, no…” She bit her lip and actually looked thoughtful. “Are you the one doing the interrogation? Are you down there?”

“No, because he’s ordering me around like an errand boy.”

“It’s for your own protection. Look, the professor…he thought, for years, that he could get away with what he did, you know? That he could lead a normal life after crafting the legal framework for all of those black sites, and still see his family and tuck in his children every night. All while innocent people were being plucked from their homes all across the world. That’s what kind of monster we’re dealing with.” She finished the rest of her beer. “Evan’s down there with the manual – the manual that the professor advised on and signed off on – and he’s going to get more names. Places. Valuable information. You and I, we need to do our jobs and be there for Evan.”

“And what are we going to do with this information then?”

“Evan knows people in a lot of networks. All around the world.”

Patrick picked up the cooler. “So what’s your job then? Fucking him?” He couldn’t believe that he had said that, but was actually kind of relieved when he did.

“Fuck you,” Tristana said. She tossed the beer can against the targets and went down the stairs.

“I thought you were supposed to control your emotions,” Patrick called out after her.

What upset him more, though, was that after he went downstairs again – something which he was thinking about not doing – Tristana and Evan barely paid him any mind. Evan cocked his head a little to indicate where Patrick should set the cooler, but he was putting the professor in a stress position and didn’t want his concentration broken. Tristana was flipping through the manual and then held out the book for Evan to read, like an assistant turning the sheet music for a concert pianist. Evan took off the professor’s pants. The professor was gritting his teeth.

“I…I…” he started to say.

Tristana perked up. “What was that? It’s okay. You can tell us.”

“This is ridiculous,” the professor blurted out. Patrick restrained a laugh, though he wasn’t sure what was funny.

Evan spat on the floor and paced around the professor. Patrick knew he was performing for Tristana more than the professor. And Tristana obliged; her eyes followed Evan and only Evan.

“It is ridiculous,” Evan said. “Because we know you know. You have to tell us what everyone knows—from the president on down.”

The professor shook his head.

“Tristana, give me those pliers,” Evan said. Tristana gave him the pliers. Evan took in his other hand a bucket of water that was in the corner.

He said: “So does that manual say to douse him with the cold water and then pull off his fingernails or…”

“Let me check,” Tristana said, wetting her finger and flipping through. “It’s like they use code words for all of the different techniques,” she said. “Euphemisms. It’s hard to keep them straight.”

“See, if I get him wet I might not be able to get a good grip on the fingernails,” Evan said. “There has to be a proper order of these things.”

“It’s not a cookbook,” Patrick said, but no one paid attention to him. He got himself another beer and downed it quickly.

“Aw, fuck it,” Evan said, pouring the water over the professor. “We’ll let you stew for a little bit. Then you can tell us everything you know.” The professor shivered and tried to shake the water off.

“I need a break,” Evan said, pulling down his bandana. He rummaged through his jacket pocket for cigarettes, and lit, pacing and smoking. Tristana leaned against the wall, her arms crossed, staring with boredom at the professor.

“My uncle,” Evan said between draughts of the cigarette, “he was a weird guy. I liked him. He didn’t take shit from anybody.”

“Okay,” Patrick said, not sure where this was going. The professor was really shivering.

“He told us kids we could never go in the tunnels because people would get lost down there. And never come back. It was actually the only advice I ever listened to from any of my relatives.”

“Why is that?” Patrick asked, genuinely curious.

Evan smiled. “Because he said he’d kill me if I ever thought about going in the tunnels, and I believed him. He had a dishonorable discharge from Nam. You.” He flicked his cigarette at the professor. The cigarette, cinder-first, bounced off his forehead, but he didn’t pay it any attention. He just kept shivering. “Did you ever serve there? I didn’t think so. Anyway, my uncle was pretty messed up from the war. I miss him a lot.”

Tristana went over and took Evan’s hand. Patrick cringed, and then hoped neither of his friends saw it. But they didn’t say anything. Tristana kept squeezing Evan’s hand and he had a wistful look on his face. When he looked sad, he didn’t look like a revolutionary at all. Or maybe a different kind of revolutionary, one that posed for glorious paintings back when people did those kinds of things.

“Come on, Tristana,” Evan said, putting his arm around her. “I…I need to refocus.”

“Patrick,” Tristana said with a smile. “Make sure that he doesn’t escape.” Then she and Evan went up the stairs. Patrick could hear them both laughing. He imagined that she would tell him, while she straddled him on the cot in the living room, that Patrick was being a jealous prick and maybe they shouldn’t have trusted him at all. Evan would have shrugged, disinterested, tracing his hands on the phoenix tattoo on her chest, a tender gesture that he would conjure at times. The professor coughed and Patrick blinked and turned to him. But the professor’s head sank down again.

Patrick walked to the professor and stood in front of him. “Look at me,” he said. “Look at me.”

The professor looked up at him. Patrick tried to say something like Evan would have said, something cutting, but nothing came to him.

“Do you know they were talking about you when you were upstairs?” the professor asked, teeth chattering. The professor smelled like an untended fish tank.

Patrick shook his head. “Tell me what they said.”

The professor shrugged. Then he said, “Tyrannia…”

“I don’t have time for this,” Patrick said. He scooped up another beer and went up the stairs, but quietly, so that Evan and Tristana wouldn’t hear him. He could hear them laughing softly. They weren’t paying any attention to Patrick.

He went outside. It was raining. The fog rolled over the fields of buckwheat and thistle, and the dying apple trees. He stood on the porch and drank his beer. The plan was not going as he had thought it would.

“Fuck it,” he said. He tossed the half-full beer can toward the barn, where it spun in a shower of watery gold. Then he walked to the van, thinking that at any moment Evan would come out with his pants half on and say Where the fuck do you think you’re going, but he didn’t. Patrick got in, put the van in neutral and coasted backwards down the hill. At the bottom he started it up and did a three-point turn. He looked at the farmhouse and the barn and the mist rising up the hill toward the barn and then gunned the minivan down the narrow road.

He took a couple wrong turns and sat in the parking lot in an abandoned gas station, trying to retrace his steps, wondering how to get home. Driving again, Patrick thought about Evan’s story about his uncle, and whether anyone had a similar influence in his own life. No one came to mind. No teacher, no relative, no mentor, no crossing guard. Maybe Tristana. That was the only person he could possibly think of. But that was long past over. He felt saddened by this for about a second or two—the time for his heart to beat a couple of times—and then he was filled with overwhelming relief.

When he finally made it back, it was getting dark. There wasn’t any fog in town. The lights were on; his mom must have taken a taxi back. He stripped the back windows of the newspaper and peeled off the duct tape. He checked the minivan’s carpet for blood—miraculously, there was none. His mom was in the living room watching Deal or No Deal.

“Hey hon,” she said. Patrick kissed her on the forehead.

“Hey mom. How was the trip?”

“Oh, fine. Work left a message, they want to know if you can work a double on your first day back.”

“Okay. I’m going to lay down now.”

“What have you been up to?”

Patrick shrugged. “Thanks for letting me borrow the van.”

“No problem, sweetie.”

“Okay, see you later mom.”

“Love you sweetie.”

“Love you too.”

In his room, all he could think about was the professor’s face, and his nonchalant shrug. He went through his emails, deleting all of Tristana and Evan’s old messages. He expected the FBI, or ATF, or whoever, to bust down the front door and wake his mother on the couch, force her to the floor at gunpoint, and charge up the stairs to his room. He was ready for the plan to end like that. He eventually fell asleep with the lights on.

#

His cell phone woke him up, vibrating and chirping on his nightstand. It was four in the morning. His lamp was still on and the house was quiet. He picked up the phone. Tristana was calling him. He let it ring three times, staring at her name, and then he flipped his phone open.

“Hello?” he said.

The connection wasn’t good, but he could tell she was breathing heavily.

“Hello? Tristana?”

After a few seconds she finally spoke. “Patrick,” she whispered. “You have to come back. Oh…” Her mouth moved away from the phone; he could hear her voice, panicked, and another more distant voice, as well as a rumbling sound. “Oh God…please come back. You have to help us. I can’t…”

“Do you know what time it is?” Patrick asked.

“Time?” she said. “Are you talking about time?”

Another voice in the distance, a high wail.

“Is the FBI there?” he said. “Is this a trap?”

“I forgive you,” she said. “Of course, of course I forgive you. And I’m sorry too. I made a lot of mistakes, Patrick. But it’s almost too late…please come. The tunnel–”

Then he lost the signal. He tried calling her back, but he couldn’t even get her voicemail, only a recorded message saying a connection was not possible at that time. He sat up in bed, arms crossed, biting his lip. The whole day was beginning to sink into him. Then the phone rang again. It was an unlisted number.

“Hello?”

There was nothing at first, then a low-pitched hum. It might or might not have been one of the sounds he heard when Tristana called him. The sound increased in pitch and intensity and then the connection died. He stared at the phone and flipped it off.

“Shit.” He felt like he should have been scared or something. But he knew he wouldn’t have padded gently down the stairs and out to the van if he was scared.

More than anything, he wanted to see Tristana’s face.

#

A few more wrong turns on misty country roads, white darkness in his headlights and branches scraping against the side of the van. He still felt drunk. The “Mountain Rain” Febreze lingered in the van like a hospital’s spoor. When lost, he spun the van out on muddy parking lots connected to no buildings, in order to turn around and retrace his path. Outside of town, he only passed one other car, which weaved in the road so much that Patrick waited on the berm for the car to pass, its honks receding in the distance.

After a few false starts he found his way and his memory reasserted itself. He stopped at the foot of the farmhouse hill and tried to keep his hands from shaking. There were no lights in the house and no other vehicles parked outside. There weren’t crickets. He climbed the hill and parked right in front of the house. He left the headlights on, took a flashlight in one hand and a baseball bat in the other, and got out of the van. No sounds whatsoever. As he stepped into the house, the headlights did more harm than good. In the living room the cot was still there, with a twin depression in the middle.

“Hello?” he called out. “Tristana?”

He stood at the top of the stairs. There was a dim light coming from below. He slowly descended the stairs, darting his flashlight around and finding nothing to see.

On the basement floor, the battery-powered lamp was almost dead, giving off a reddish glow. The cooler was overturned and crushed beer cans were scattered everywhere. In the center of the room, the chair was still there— though its legs looked burnt and scorched—and was empty except for the professor’s shoes on the seat, polished black. The leather captured the glow from the lamp like the clouds of a dark Jupiter. Feathery strands of rope, like pillow down, were scattered around the chair. The rest of the basement was empty, but he did hear a trickling from the archway in the far corner. He took a deep breath and walked through the earthen opening, into the chilly tunnel.

He took a few steps into the tunnel, which began to slope downward. The footing was slick. He looked at his sneakers and wondered if he was going to slide down the rest of the way. As he tried to grip the rough stone wall, his flashlight slipped out of his hands and skittered down the dark slope for a few seconds until stopping down below.

“Shit,” he said. The sound didn’t echo; it died.

He heard sloshing noises. He stopped himself from sliding any further and held his breath.

Someone picked up the flashlight, and flicked it around, revealing a cavern about as large as the basement above, filled with a couple inches of reddish water. The person was all shadows until putting the flashlight under their chin. It was Tristana. She had a black eye, lacerations on the cheeks, torn clothes, gray skin. She was barefoot.

“Tristana,” Patrick whispered. “Come on up. Come on. I found you.” He kept himself from rushing down to her. It was not a hard decision and that surprised him.

She looked up at Patrick but didn’t seem to recognize him. She wiggled the flashlight around the cavern walls, as if she hadn’t ever used one before. Patrick could catch glimpses of human skeletons and bear skulls embedded on the rough walls below him.

“Tristana!” he said.

More footsteps, and someone took the flashlight away from Tristana. It was Evan. He was hunched over. He was carrying the professor on his back, who looked unconscious or dead. Evan looked as mottled and wounded as Tristana did. He was barefoot also, and didn’t have any fingernails. He looked up at Patrick too, and then past him. Then Evan dropped the flashlight and they both turned away from the light and kept moving until Patrick couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore.

Patrick stumbled back the way he came. The light was turning gray in the east. His headlights were dimming, and they would have died if he had stayed down there any longer.

#

No one asked him any questions about the disappearances. He wanted someone to. He wanted to be put through the ringer, to be placed in a small cell and asked penetrating questions about his role in the disappearance of three people. He wanted to be roughed up a little bit.

The university held memorial services. The Attorney General spoke at the funeral of the professor. Patrick avoided everything, and then went back to work waxing floors and making windows upon the quad sparkle. He was learning to forget about the farmhouse and the tunnels. Evan, Tristana, and the professor were a little harder to forget, but he was working on it. His dreams were dark spaces and he liked it that way.

About two weeks after the funerals, he was watching TV alone on a Sunday night. His mother was out at a bar with some friends. He was drifting to sleep when the doorbell rang. Startled, it took him a few seconds to register the sound. It rung again, and he muttered to himself as he went to unlock the door.

Tristana pushed open the door the rest of the way and came into the house with Evan close behind her. The professor was still draped onto his back.

“Whew,” Tristana said. “Glad we found you.”

Their skin was grayer than before, with red scars and welts all over their bodies. Their clothes were tatters, and Tristana was almost naked. The professor’s scalp was almost gone and Patrick could see a nest of black ovals at the base of his neck—beetles.

“Been looking everywhere for you, my man” Evan said. Tristana took Patrick’s hand and squeezed it. Her hand felt like a cantaloupe after months in an icebox.

Evan hobbled over to the kitchen table and pulled out a chair, spilling a stack of bills and newspapers that were sitting on it. Tristana sank down to the couch, still holding onto Patrick’s hand. “Sit with me,” she said, and Patrick sat next to her. She smelled like the monkey cages in the psychology building that Patrick had to sometimes clean. Evan deposited the professor onto the chair and flexed his shoulder blades. A few beetles dropped from his back onto the floor and scurried away. The professor moaned a little bit, though it might have been Evan throwing his voice. Tristana stroked Patrick’s cheek.

“We, all of us, are together at last, my little bear,” she said, and then she kissed him. He didn’t want his heart to open up, or his mouth, but they did, and he kissed her back, crushing her tongue against his and licking the salty pulp, feeling her breathe like she was choking, and her neck quiver as if she was in danger. He was getting feverish, and at the same time his skin prickled all over with chills, but he didn’t care. He kissed the giant scar on Tristana’s forehead and then they settled into the couch to watch Evan work.

Evan slapped the professor’s cheek, which gouged open. Then he took hold of Patrick’s baseball bat, which was propped up against the kitchen table. Evan coughed a few times, spitting magnolias of blood onto the floor.

“Now,” Evan said to the professor, “for the last time, tell me everything you know!”

Alan DeNiro is the author of a novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less and two short story collections, both from Small Beer Press: Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and Tyrannia. The latter is forthcoming in the Fall and contains “A Rendition.” His short fiction has appeared in One Story, Asimov’s, Santa Monica Review, Fence, and elsewhere.