Well. Whatever. Now it was a matter of seeing if there would be another outbreak, maybe in another town. But nothing so far.
Snow was inching up the little wooden cross we had planted at Molly’s grave. Every time I looked at it, I imagined replacing it with a little star and crescent, so my neighbors would think that somehow my dog had died a practicing Muslim. I was waiting for a call from Amy, but instead I got a knock at my door. I assumed it was a reporter, which kind of cheered me up because I was making a fulfilling hobby out of giving a completely different version of the story to each and every one of them I spoke to. Why let everybody else have all the fun?
But when I opened the door, there was Detective Lance Falconer, in a black turtleneck and looking cropped from a cover of GQ. It actually took me a second to notice the crutches.
Once inside my living room, I said to him, “You knocked. Usually you just let yourself in.”
“I spent five weeks in the hospital, Wong. I’m in no mood.”
“Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve.”
“I got some frozen taquitos in the oven, you want one?”
“I don’t even know what that is. Look, I’m not gonna waste your time. I just got off the phone with my agent and I’m talking about doing a book on the Zulu thing, and he informs me that there are no fewer than thirteen books on the subject in the pipeline.”
“Yeah, I know. Marconi is writing one, his will be the best. Though I got to admit, the one I’m most looking forward to reading is Owen’s.”
“And you’re writing one.”
“Well, Amy actually. She’s my ghost writer. They just put my name on the cover.”
“My point is,” he said, straining for patience, “is that they’re fine with multiple books because they’re from different angles. But yours and mine are basically the same. Because we kind of went through it together.”
“Oh. I can see that.”
“And they don’t want mine, because they already have yours.”
“Oh, right. I mean, you should have moved faster to make a deal.”
“I was in the hospital recovering from getting sprayed with a fucking machine gun.”
“Oh, right. Right.”
“And I don’t suppose I can change your mind?”
I said, “Detective, I want you to use your powers of deduction to detect the fact that I’m living in a goddamned FEMA trailer. The video store just opened back up two weeks ago. No paycheck, that whole time. I go back to work and the first customer I get is Jimmy DuPree, returning his copy of Basic Instinct 2. I’m like, you’re payin’ late charges on that. It wasn’t in the deposit box when I got here this morning. He didn’t like that.”
“I thought there was some sort of victim’s fund from the government…”
“There is, and maybe one of these days I’ll actually get a check in the mail in return for the eight thousand forms I had to fill out. But they’re going to sit on it until they see what I write in the book. They want to see how I tell the story, if you understand what I’m saying.”
“And how are you going to tell the story?”
“I’m going to tell the most ridiculous possible version of it I can think of. People are going to close it and be like, ‘What the fuck did I just read?’”
He nodded. “I have material that you won’t have access to. I got transcripts of the radio chatter between the pilots. Some other stuff you won’t be able to get.”
“I’d love to have you on board.”
“I’ll cooperate on one condition. You portray the coolest version of me possible. I’m talking total action hero here. If you’re making things up, then embellish me into a badass.”
“I can do that.”
“And give me a cool name. And make me good-looking.”
“And say I drive a Porsche.”
“What? Where are you gonna get a Porsche on a cop salary?”
“Because I’m awesome. Alex Cross drives one. So does Lucas Davenport.”
“What, are those cops you know?”
He headed for the door, moving more smoothly on the crutches than I did on my own legs. On his way out he turned and said, “And don’t put a bunch of bullshit in my mouth, or get cute and try to make me look stupid. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the salon to have my pubic hair straightened and dyed white so that my dick looks like Santa Claus.” He closed the door, farting loudly all the way to his car.
I went and pulled my taquitos from the oven. I let them cool and went back to my place at the kitchen window. Falconer’s gleaming new Porsche was turning around in my yard, pulling through the snow and disappearing down the street. Actually, now that I looked at it I think it was a Ferrari. I ate a taquito.
As I chewed, the light changed behind me. A shadow grew over the surface of the kitchen counter.
I had time to notice the shadow had no left hand. It spoke.
I spun, saw pale skin and freckles and red hair.
I said, “Oh! Hey! I was waiting for you to call.”
“John picked me up at the bus station while you were out shopping.”
My words were interrupted by Amy throwing her arms around my ribs, squeezing like she was trying to deflate me.
She said, “I brought cupcakes! I left them by the—”
It was her turn to be interrupted, by me pulling her shirt over her head.
“—door. Can we go get Cuban coffee later?”
“Uh huh, sure, sure,” I said, working the zipper on her pants.
“Oh my God, David, they will not stop calling me. I changed my number and the reporters found it like two days later. When does this end? When do things get back to normal?”
Who knows? We were both naked by the time she made it to the question mark.
I was half asleep, curled up against her in the bed, Amy in the sweats and T-shirt she wore as pajamas. She was reading the Christmas card that had been laying on my counter.
“When did it come?”
I mumbled, “Couple days ago.”
The front was a festive Christmas scene over the words FELIZ NAVIDAD. Inside, scrawled in red Magic Marker, were the words:
MERRY XMAS TO WALT AND AMY AND DOG
There was no return address.
“That is so cute! She’s just as bad at names as you are.”
She said, “David?”
“I don’t know if I told you, but I’m seeing somebody.”
“Mmm. Okay. Is he good-looking?”
“A counselor, I mean. For the post-traumatic stress and all that.”
“Oh. Okay. Sure, that’s good. Let me, uh, know if he’s a supervillain.”
I drifted off again.
“Hmm? What? Is it morning?”
“Do you ever wish you didn’t know any of this? Like if you could just erase it from your brain so you’d be like everybody else?”
“Sure. Actually … no. Because if somebody came along and offered me the chance, like if they told me if I took a pill I could make it all go away, I wouldn’t do it. I’d be afraid the good stuff would go away, too. Like maybe I imagined all of it but then maybe I imagined you, too.”
“I’m not saying you imagined it all, obviously.”
“That’s exactly what you would say, if you also were imaginary.”
“All right, go to sleep.”
“Hey, you started it.”
Silence. I drifted off.
She said, “I was going back and reading Marconi’s last book again, and there’s this part that always gets me. He points out that the amount of the universe a human can experience is statistically, like, zero percent. You’ve got this huge universe, trillions of trillions of miles of empty space between galaxies, and all a human can perceive is a little tunnel a few feet wide and a few feet long in front of our eyes. So he says we don’t really live in the universe at all, we live inside our brains. All we can see is like a blurry little pinhole in a blindfold, and the rest is filled in by our imagination. So whatever we think of the world, whether you think the world is cruel or good or cold or hot or wet or dry or big or small, that comes entirely from inside your head and nowhere else.”
We laid in silence for a while. Finally, I said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if that was true?”
Amy’s answer was a soft snore.