Calvert Green literally believes he's dead--but that won't stop him from diving deep into the secrets that threaten to bury him.
The car accident took his wife and nearly killed him too, but Calvert Green's problems are just beginning. He was a respected Russian literature scholar in Chicago, but due to severe head trauma, he's now suffering from Cotard's Disease--a rare physiological condition that makes him believe he's dead. He has also lost much of his memory, including the academic knowledge that defined his life.
Calvert knows few details about the accident but believes there's more going on than he's been told, so he leaves the care facility determined to find the truth behind his "death." His search lands him in the middle of a city being terrorized by a murder spree, and young homicide detective Whistler Diaz has a prime suspect. But Whistler's cousin Moe, a crusading journalist, zeroes in on Calvert, determined to prove he's not all he seems.
Intuition and improvisation were never Calvert's strong suits, but now he has to draw on his hidden inner resources to clear his name. On a harrowing journey into the city's underbelly--and deep into his psyche--Calvert begins to uncover the shocking truth of who he once was.
Calvert might be on the verge of finding a new definition of sanity--but a malevolent force lurks in the shadows bent on total madness.
Release date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Print pages: 336
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Listen to a sample
Calvert waits inside. There is no other option. It’s early, still dark out. He sees a thin transparency of himself reflected in the pane of glass. It’s uncomfortable to look at what he’s become. He wills his eyes to focus through his likeness to the circle drive out front. No car has arrived.
The main entrance of New Horizons is like an airlock: exterior doors open onto an alcove of glass and steel, and a second set of doors open into the facility. Calvert knows the exterior doors have to be closed tight before the interior doors can open, and vice versa. To use the doors, one must be buzzed in or possess a code.
The keypad next to him looks like a solar calculator screwed to the wall. Despite being officially discharged as a patient, he hasn’t been trusted with the code. Nobody is at the front desk, no one to push the buzzer that unlocks the doors. He’s as anxious as he is currently capable of being. He doesn’t know how he’ll leave when his ride arrives.
Worry is exhausting. It pushes his overtaxed intellect to the edge of failure. My breaker could flip.
The admissions area is not a place for loitering. There are no chairs for him to sit in. He uses his cheap suitcase as a stool. It is neither stable nor comfortable. The cushioning fat of his rump has atrophied since his accident. His bones grind against the hard edges of the suitcase. His body sends pain signals to his brain, a curious sensation. After a time he decides he prefers standing.
“Professor Greene. There you are. I, like, went by your room and couldn’t find you. I thought you, like, made a run for it. Just kidding.” Abbey touches his shoulder.
He’s not certain of Abbey’s job. She’d been assigned to him recently, and they’d been together daily to prepare him for independent living. The young lady has tendencies he finds difficult: she often edges in too close, and she’s loud, speaks fast, and asks questions she answers before he can form a thought. She’s bewildering. Her eyebrows are dishonest, like tadpoles bobbing over wide, black eyes, and they move around her forehead independent of the other parts of her face. As always, Calvert’s gaze goes to her forehead.
“Are you, like, all set? Of course you are.” Her hand brushes along his arm and takes his fingers where they dangle aimlessly. She pulls him to the doors. Her hand flutters over the keypad. The lock pops. She pushes the door and holds it open. He walks his suitcase out ahead of her. “You packed everything? I bet you did. Ready to start your new life? I know you are.”
“Yes,” he says. As an afterthought he takes issue with the term “new life.” He knows from experience correcting her is pointless. She always misunderstands him.
“I, like, knew it,” she says. She has her phone in one hand. She taps the screen and reads. “Your driver’s name is Agatha. This is what she looks like.” She tips an image in his direction, takes it away before his brain can process. “Looks like a nice person. Right? Yes. She really does.” Abbey follows him into the airlock. The door catches firmly behind her. She taps a second keypad and they exit.
The wind hisses in Calvert’s ear. He knows air can’t make words. I’m not crazy. But this morning it carries voices with it. First he hears a wail of anguish, then an infant’s laugh, and last an escalating squabble between lovers he can tell will end badly. The wind whisks the people away, and he notes the rattle of an engine coming closer. A car drives slowly in their direction, headlights pinning him in place.
“Like, right on time,” Abbey says.
Calvert recognizes the make and model. “We owned a Vue,” he says.
“Yes,” Abbey says, glancing up at the moon. “It is a nice view.”
“The car,” he says. “A Saturn Vue—we had one like it.”
“Wow, Professor! Your memory is coming back.” Abbey isn’t really paying attention to him. Her accolades are generated automatically.
The car pulls to the curb. Abbey waves and the driver rolls down the window. Agatha, the driver, is a granny with short white hair and a loose, crinkled face. “This New Horizon?”
“Yes,” Abbey says. She opens the back door for Calvert.
Calvert pushes his suitcase in, settles, and buckles.
The two women talk through the front window.
Calvert pays no attention. The seat is soft. More comfortable than the suitcase.
Abbey raps on the window next to his head. He watches her eyebrows swim toward each other. There is no crank to turn. He can’t find a button for the window. He gives up. Abbey flaps her hand so quickly it looks like she’s holding a bird, like a magician manifesting a pigeon from nothingness. She is waving goodbye. He places his palm flat on the glass. The car rolls forward. His dry skin leaves no phantom print when he takes his hand away.
“All set back there?” Crinkled Agatha asks.
“You like country music?”
He considers the question seriously. “I don’t think so,” he says.
Agatha doesn’t turn on any music. She may be mad at him. Calvert isn’t certain.
The sky glows a weak gray as sunrise approaches. He watches the half-familiar world out the window. They stop at a traffic light. A man with a green Mohawk and chewing an unlit cigar stands under a streetlight, holding a sign that reads “Homeless vet seeking human kindness.” The vet extends a plastic coffee can and shakes it. Agatha rolls her window up.
How many servings of kindness fit in a coffee can?Calvert wants to know.
“I’ll have you to your place in no time,” Agatha says as the Vue gets back in motion.
Calvert speaks with no forethought. “Can we make a stop?”
“That girl from Horizon told me to take you to your apartment and be sure you make it in the door. You’re supposed to get ready for something or the other.”
He hadn’t realized he was planning anything until now. “I remember my old address.” He accesses it, repeats it in his mind so it won’t slip away. His nose aims loosely in the direction of the building he and Mere had called home. “I need to get my things.” Agatha doesn’t reply, only watches him through the rearview mirror. “I have money. I can pay,” he adds.
“I’d love to help.” Agatha is persuaded.
He considers what he’s about to do. “Will you wait while I go in?
“I’m not sure. I’ll pay you for your time.”
“I can wait. It’s not a problem.”
Eighteen minutes later, Agatha circles the block four times, trying to find a spot before parking at a CVS near the coroner of Huron and Wells. “I’ll take that money now.”
Calvert passes a folded bill to her.
“This is a dollar.”
He passes another bill.
“That’s more like it. I’ll wait twenty-one minutes. That’s a dollar a minute. It doesn’t get fairer than that. If you’re not back, I’m going. Sound good?”
He replays the verbal contract. “Yes.” He opens the door and bumps the next car. He tries to slip out and finds he’s still buckled. He can’t work the button. “I’m stuck.”
Agatha gets out, jostles sideways between vehicles, and reaches across Calvert to undo his seat belt. “Best take your stuff in case I have to leave.” Everything she says sounds like a threat. Calvert does as he’s told.
He walks his suitcase to the front of the building marked with the address he remembered. It doesn’t look familiar, not at all. He fears he made it up. He sees movement inside. Based on the expression of the doorman, he recognizes Calvert.
The doorman opens the door, already talking, “Professor Greene, what a surprise. How longs it been? Hadn’t heard you’d be by.”
“Picking up some things.”
The doorman holds the door wide. Calvert stops short.
“Can I take your bag?” the doorman asks.
“Yes.” Calvert passes the suitcase. “Also, I lost my key.” He walks in.
In the elevator, Calvert hesitates over the array of buttons. The doorman reaches in and pushes “5.” They stand side by side. Calvert doesn’t trust his social assessments, but he thinks a tense silence develops.
The doorman eventually says, “I was sorry to hear about your wife.”
“Thank you,” Calvert answers reflexively. He’s pleased with the response. He’s also afraid to ask what about his wife makes the doorman feel sorry.
“So sad. I couldn’t go on if I lost my Betty.”
Calvert remembers “lost” is a euphemism for death. Does he mean Meredith is dead? He’d suspected it when she never came to visit during his recovery. The doors open and he’s saved from formulating an emotion.
They walk past three apartments before the doorman unlocks a door and switches on lights. He gives Calvert the key and stands with one hand turned up. The hand makes a shallow reservoir. Calvert imagines if he dribbled water in the hollow place it would attract birds. Abbey’s flapping hand could fly over for a drink. Calvert stares intently into the hand while thinking this over. The hand goes away.
“If you don’t need anything else, I have to get back. Bring the key when you’re done.”
The door closes.
Calvert is alone, a dead man surrounded by ghosts.
He feels immediately overwhelmed being in this place. Not by the moment he’s standing in, but by a torrent of past sensations. He makes his feet move him to the kitchen. The second he sees the linoleum floor, a scene plays on the screen in his mind.
Young Calvert in a kitchen with an older boy. Not this kitchen. The two stand facing one another. Calvert doesn’t know the older boy; he only knows he held a deck of cards when he said, “You want to play?” Calvert didn’t answer. “Well? You know about cards or not?”
“Sure I do,” Calvert said. “I know all about cards.”
The bigger kid held the deck out, an offer. He pulled away the moment Calvert reached out. “You must know how to play canasta?
“No. Not really.”
“You ever hear of euchre?”
“No. Sounds made up. Is it real?”
“Hell yes, it’s real. What about poker? You must play poker.” The older boy let himself sound frustrated.
“Yes,” Calvert said. “I heard of that one.”
The older boy cut the deck, shuffled the two stacks together. Knocked the pile against the counter a few times. “You have to bet in poker. You got any money?”
Calvert went through a pantomime of checking his pockets before saying, “No.”
“Then poker is out. What can we play? What can we play? Any ideas? I know. You ever hear of fifty-two-card pickup?”
“Yes. Of course,” Calvert lied.
“You want to play that?”
“Okay. I’ll play. You might have to tell me the rules.”
“The rules are simple.”
Calvert, watching the memory play, can clearly see the glee in the boy’s expression. The kid thrust the cards at Calvert’s face, bent the deck back, released his grip, and shot the cards against Calvert’s head and chest. Calvert squeezed his eyes against the onslaught, against the deception, against the meanness. The older boy laughed the laugh of someone who’d fallen for the same trick. It was the joy of subjecting the next victim to the same injury. Decades ago, Calvert stood in a kitchen amid the scattered cards and started to cry. It had only made the other boy laugh harder.
In this place, besieged by a life now lost, Calvert feels much as he did back then, sharp shards of memories ricocheting off him, falling in a random, loose pile around his shoes. He feels wronged and robbed, attacked and confused. He can’t make sense of it. My memories are a jumble; everything is out of order. He doesn’t want to sort through the fragments, is afraid to remember what hand he’d been dealt and how he’d chosen to play it.
He blinks it all away and reaches for the refrigerator, as he would have any evening after work. It’s nearly empty, only a pile of ketchup packets in the butter cubby. If Meredith is dead, who cleaned the fridge?
The digital clock on the microwave is flashing: 00:00. He deduces the power went out. Or time has ended. The thought of time reminds him that Crinkled Agatha is waiting.
He passes through a living room that used to be his and into the bedroom he shared with a woman only he was allowed to call Mere. The mattress is bare and has a brown stain near the foot. Blood? No. He knows it’s from spilled wine.
The closet is mostly empty, the mirrored accordion doors left open, with plastic hangers strewn on the ground. Someone took Meredith’s clothes, the photos from the dresser, her shoes and purses and belts.
In the bathroom, the medicine cabinet is empty except for a razor, shaving cream, and some tubes of ointment. He finds his toiletry bag under the sink. His drawer of deodorant, hair gel, and waxed cinnamon floss looks untouched. He takes the things he thinks he’ll need. In the bedroom he finds a gym bag. He fills it with socks, underwear, and other clothes. From the side table drawer he takes a wristwatch, a wallet full of expired IDs, and a stash of twenty-dollar bills. He tucks the wallet in his pocket.
There’s more room in the bag, so he throws in a suit and a fistful of neckties. He rummages in the dresser until he locates a certain photo of Meredith. She’s in the sun, cheeks tan, on a ribbon of beach with the ocean behind her. The Mediterranean. He creases the photo and puts it in the wallet with the cash.
He throws the duffel’s strap over his head and passes back through the apartment. He remembers to take his suitcase and hurries down the hall to the elevator. On the way down, he realizes he doesn’t have the apartment key. He didn’t lock up. By the time the elevator slows, he knows the doorman’s name is Justus.
He finds three people in uniform when the doors open. There’s a skinny man with buzzed blond hair and an older woman with hair combed close to her skull, both in Chicago Police Department uniforms, complete with too-short bulletproof vests over black cargo pants. The skinny man’s name is sewn on the right side of his chest: “Becker.” The third person in uniform is Justus, the doorman. He stands at the back but looks anxious to step closer. Realization dawns like a stab of light piercing his eye: Justus’s hand had been cupped to hold money.
The two cops approach as Calvert steps out. Becker moves behind Calvert and takes his wrists, making him drop the suitcase. He yanks the duffel over Calvert’s head, dragging the strap roughly across his ear.
The other officer says, “Are you Calvert Greene?”
“It’s him,” Justus says.
She turns to glare at Justus. “Let him answer.” Calvert reads the word “Police” stitched across her back. Redundant, he thinks. She turns to Calvert again and asks, “Are you Greene?”
He feels he needs to answer quickly. “I’m Greene. I’m Calvert. Yes.” Behind him, cold cuffs slap on one wrist. It startles him. He pulls away. Becker wrangles him.
“Mr. Greene,” the female officer says, “are you aware you trespassed on property you have been prohibited from entering by restraining order?”
Justus says, “An injunction.”
Behind Calvert, Becker asks, “What’s the difference?” He ratchets the second cuff closed.
The woman says, “First you get a restraining order—”
Justus interrupts. “There was a restraining order issued around the time detectives came to search the apartment.”
The officer gives Justus another withering look. Justus shuts his mouth with an audible clop. Calvert studies the Chicago flag on her sleeve. The six-pointed star is not in the symmetrical rhythm of a Star of David. The female cop says, “First a temporary restraining order, then the prosecutor’s office can go to a judge. Based on the evidence before the court, an injunction may be issued.”
“Yes,” Justus says, determined to stay relevant. “That’s what they said. An injunction. Call the police if Professor Greene shows up ’cause his wife’s family filed an injunction.”
Calvert’s eyes are drawn from Justus’s smug face to someone outside. Agatha is approaching fast. She barges in. “Are you coming or not?”
Calvert ignores her question. “I needed my clothes,” he explains to the officer in charge. He steps forward.
Becker tugs up on the cuffs. Calvert feels the head of his right humerus torque out of socket. There’s a lot pain. Despite being mostly numb to such things, a scream escapes Calvert.
Crinkled Agatha produces a phone and starts shooting video. “I’m documenting this. Police brutality. Police brutality. This is on the record.”
Everyone talks at once.
“I said to be careful about that,” the female officer yells at Becker. Then to Agatha, “You don’t need to record this.”
“You’ll be on the nightly news. You are about to be famous. Not in a good way.”
“Infamous,” Justus adds.
“That’s right,” Agatha says. “About to be infamous.”
“I barely tugged it,” Becker says.
To Calvert, everything sounds far away, like listening from six feet underground.
“I was told to call,” Justus says to Calvert. It might be an apology.
Despite the pain, Calvert keeps his feet under him.
“Police brutality,” Agatha says again. She moves her phone closer to Calvert’s anguished expression.
“You got to stay back,” the senior officer warns.
That’s when Calvert blacks out.
It’s hazy out as Moe pedals down Cermak to grab the Pink Line at Cicero. She rolls past the Tastee Donuts on her left and the liquor store to her right before lifting her ass from the seat to bump over the tracks. She dismounts and ignores the bike parking.
She finds her usual spot tucked next to the fare card machine and uses it to shelter from the damp wind. Out of habit, she tries to unsnap the chinstrap of her helmet. I forgot my helmet. She makes a clucking sound with her tongue. Need more sleep.
Moe hates feeling sorry for herself. She looks for a distraction. She read somewhere it’s seven miles from this platform to Union Station. She turns her eyes east to the place where the rails pinch into one line. Tall buildings, like the woody stalks of swamp plants rise around the vanishing point. She takes her phone from a side pocket on her messenger bag and checks the time. Running late.
She ignores the other people by sipping thin tea from an insulated thermos she takes from her bike’s bottle rack. The grass-flavored water is no substitute for strong coffee, but the ritual half satisfies.
It’s not long before she hears the train approach like a gathering storm. She stays put as the train’s brakes grab and the doors open with a hydraulic exhale. She lets everyone board ahead of her. Finally she lifts her bike over the gap and stands it vertical as the doors close.
The ride to Clinton and Lake is short. Holding Bernstein, the bike she’d named after her favorite journalist, is no inconvenience. When the train reaches her stop, a number of seated commuters trade places with those standing and begin to bunch in a herd in front of the exit. She rests the bike against her left hip, her wide stance a brace against a sudden jolt. She and Bernstein will be the first to exit. She can feel the pent-up pressure of the crowd. Before the doors open, the mass edges ahead and someone knocks into her bike. It twists, grinding the narrow seat into her hip.
“So sorry,” a woman’s voice, very near, apologizes.
Moe turns and sees an angel with creamy skin in a dark suit, auburn hair in big rich waves, makeup luminous and flawless. Moe doesn’t go for the business types, but she likes what she sees.
“So sorry,” the woman says again, followed by an embarrassed smile.
Moe puts on her best James Dean and says, real cool, “No problem, ma’am.” She doffs the brim of an imagined cowboy hat.
The doors crack open, and she and Bernstein turn the opposite direction from the crush of bodies heading for the ramp to the street. Once people quit pouring out, a wave of commuters washes into the train. The doors close, the train leaves, and the platform is deserted. Moe exits down the ramp, Bernstein rolling beside her until she hits the sidewalk. She checks her phone to make sure she’s had no messages from Vivian, before throwing her leg over the bike and edging her way into traffic. Once she has her bearings, it’s a short ride to her meeting with a guy named Ricky.
Ricky, she’d learned in correspondence the night before, owns a business called Grip Audio, installing after-market sound systems from a garage near Washington and Peoria. The spot is easy to find, and the overhead door is open as she coasts to a stop. She can see the Honda CB550 sitting inside. It looks better than the pictures she’d seen. A lanky guy with a saggy ass is knocking around at a workbench.
She walks Bernstein through the door and calls, “Ricky?”
Ricky drops what he’s doing and reaches his lemur arms behind him to wipe his long fingers over the butt of his coveralls. He’s all elbows and knees and seems to fold and refold as he moves. It’s insectoid and it makes Moe’s skin prickle. He extends his mostly clean hand for a shake. He towers over her diminutive frame. The poor quality of the handshake is repellent.
“You found me,” he says, letting her hand slip from his feeble grasp. “You the one here about the motorcycle, right?”
“I’ve been looking for a while.” She leans Bernstein against the nearest wall and eyes the Honda. It’s her dream bike. She can afford what Ricky is asking. But she hopes to get a better deal. She puts on an unimpressed expression.
“Nice bike,” Ricky says, looking at Bernstein.
“Cyclocross. A good all-around bike.” She doesn’t mention a cracked weld where the top tube joins the head tube, getting worse with every pothole. “I hate to sell him. He’s a treasure.”
“Looks good,” Ricky says. As if she’s a mother whose child has been called adorable, Moe decides Ricky isn’t so bad.
“Tell me about the Honda?”
“Well, …” Ricky scruffs his chin stubble, considering where to begin. “Got the bike about two years ago as a gift for a girl I was dating.” He fills the space between sentences with a sour look. “She never learned to ride it. When I found it, it was real grimy. It’d been sitting a while in an old chicken coop out in Kane County. I saw a “For Sale” sign when I went to catch a minor league game. The Cougars. Real fun, real fun. You ever been?”
“I never have.”
“Real fun. Highly recommend. The bike was covered in dust and feathers and smelled like chicken shit. But the price was right. It had bad gas in the tank, you know.”
Moe nods that she knows. She hunkers down to look over the engine.
“You can see I changed the exhaust to a high-performance setup.” He waggles a long finger at the chrome pipes. “Mostly I gave it a good tune-up. Cleaned the carbs with Pine-Sol, boiled the jets in lemon juice. Replaced the plugs and wires. Got some fresh gas running through her. The inside of the tank was in good shape. What else?” he asks himself. “Charging system is strong. Battery is new. The body is in good shape. Really good. Long story short, when Crazy Vicky left she didn’t take the bike.”
“Ricky and Vicky huh?” Moe says. “Very cute.”
“Shoulda known it was a bad omen when our names rhymed.”
“Live and learn.” Moe smiles at him to seem polite.
Ricky goes on, “After you said you were stopping by, I checked to make sure she was ready. She started straight away. I tooled around the block a few times, then rode out past the lot where Harpo used to sit. McDonald’s built some giant complex on the lot. Seems strange, but what do I know? She rode great. I almost changed my mind about selling her. What else?”
Moe has ridden a little, mostly around warehouses in the Fulton River District. But she can see herself on the bike. “You said you wanted three for it?” Moe stands slowly, shoves her hands in the front pockets of her skinny jeans.
“Yes. I’ve got more than that in it. But it doesn’t make sense to keep her.”
Moe’s body is buzzing. She wants the bike. She already has riding boots, and they look fucking tough. Vivian, her boss, told her to get a real vehicle if she wants to move up. Looked at the right way, the Honda is an investment.
Last night, in anticipation of this moment, she narrowed the bike’s name down to two options: either Taibbi after the Rolling Stones contributor, or Fahrenthold after the Washington Post reporter. In person, the bike just doesn’t look like a Fahrenthold. The moment she settles on a name, she knows she’s going to buy it. “Think I can take him for a spin?” She pats Taibbi’s seat.
Ricky talks her through the start-up procedure. Moe finds his instruction more helpful than insulting. The engine fires up. Ricky hands Moe a helmet the same forest green as the bike’s tank, full face with a yellow bubble shield. She likes the look. On the back she finds a curly script that reads “Vicky.” She gives it a long look.
“That will come off. I don’t want the helmet,” Ricky says.
She uses the chinstraps to tug the helmet on. It’s perfect. Snug but not tight, and her field of vision is unobstructed. The yellow tint gives her artificial hope. For Ricky’s amusement she says, “Vicky must have been a pumpkin head.” Her voice is muffled, like talking into a pillow.
“Yeah. But it was mostly hair.” Ricky replies.
Moe pulls out of the garage and rides toward Randolph. She takes it slow, keeping her head up and scanning side to side. The helmet is heavier than she’s used to. Neck is going to be sore.
The streets are lined with cars along both sides, which makes the way narrow. She smells in the air a mix of heat coming off the Honda and greasy short-order food. The transmission shifts easily and she zips down the length of the block, slows to a stop, looks for cross traffic, then accelerates down the next block. Her fingers get cold in the wind. She can hear the traffic from the Eisenhower, cars honking, and a radio blaring a conservative talk show. She makes it to the main drag and works her way through a confusing traffic snarl before turning left. The West Loop has been transformed over the past couple decades, from a rugged series of warehouse loading docks into an epicenter of luxury lofts and retail boutiques, art galleries, repurposed architectural salvage, nightclubs, and one restaurant after another.
A Porsche Cayenne backs in front of Moe. Her reflexes save her. She leans the motorbike to turn it, has to drop a foot to keep from laying the bike down, rolls on the throttle and zips out of harm’s way. Now it’s a test drive. She reaches up and gives Taibbi a pat on the headlight before finding a place to make a U-turn and ride back to Grip Audio.
She has trouble finding the kickstand. Her legs are rubbery. She drags the helmet off and hangs it from the throttle grip.
“Pretty sweet ride, huh?” Ricky says.
Her phone buzzes. With one hand she combs her fingers through her hair, with the other she tugs her phone loose from the bag at her back.
Vivian: Get your ass north of the river. There’s a body. I’ll send the exact location.
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