A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 2
A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.
Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.
Bret imagined flashes, heard screams. His eyes stayed closed, his hands clasped shut, white-knuckle cold. The scream of militant orders. The commands barked by a tired, frustrated man filled with the most poison.
“I don’t want to just put on the table that we’re getting into face-raping territory,” the man exclaimed. “But anyone not pulling their own on this one is getting it from me. It will not be voluntary, and it will be in the front part of the head where I thought your eyes were, and it will be a sovereign nation with a foreign policy and zoning bylaws. And it will be my cock.”
Bret didn’t know how he got himself into these situations, sometimes.
Bret imagined flashes. Bulbs. The old kind, that exploded over a camera, the kind that helped produce that sepia effect, that burn. The crack sound of a dozen of them going off in the face of a scandal. The crisp nightmare crackle of lightning on a forrest.
The voice continued firing orders at other soldiers. “Deaner! I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you’re three seconds away from receiving my rifle up your ass. Strafe! Jump and shoot! Jump and shoot! And…you’re dead. You’re better off. You still there? Good. I want you to hear how little your carcass mattered.”
Bret laid there pretending to sleep because he feared the decisions that came with the new day. Bret and Album had gotten themselves into a mess. Album had found a way to profit. Bret hadn’t. Album had been celebrating a great victory. Bret hadn’t.
Bret imagined flashes. He pictured sirens, cuffs, strong-armed silent brutes in the night, hauling him away.
Album’s low-toned growls continued at a leopard’s pace. He screamed, “Everyone move! Move move move! I don’t want to shoot my own men but if y’all don’t get over the barrier in time I will turn every last one of you into carpets!”
Bret breathed deep. He tried to fall back to sleep. But he knew it wasn’t going to happen. Today was happening. Decisions had to be made. This vacation from real life, this glittering city he’d come to for escape, was entirely too over.
“That’s it!” Album screamed. “You’re all off my team. Fuck you, you’re sorry. Sorry doesn’t win flags, does it? The whole thing’s tits up. To hell with this goddamn mission.”
Bret saw only black, but he heard everything.
Album threw down his controller, hitting Bret’s leg. He sat up, pretending to be startled.
“Shit, brother,” Album said, picking it back up.
That was the last moment before he had to admit every rotten thing.
Eyes open, eyebrows up, head cocked, Bret said, “Don’t worry about it. Sorry you didn’t win.”
“The hell you have to be sorry for?” Album said. “You Canadians, man. Apologizing for everything ever done.”
“It’s a tick,” Bret sleepily replied, remembering for the first time in months he didn’t really belong here.
Bret took a look around from his spot on Album’s old, beat-up grey couch. The fabric felt coarse and used, like he brought it in from the street. He’d sat in this room dozens of times but never slept here, and the view in the morning was strikingly different. Sunlight actually penetrated through the blinds, coating everything in a dusty layer. It was never a temple, but for the first time it became obvious to Bret just how filthy Album’s place was. Piles of burned DVDs stacked crooked up against a bookshelf full of computer manuals and get-rich-quick volumes. A couple cases of Diet Coke held up a pancake platter of dead laptops Album didn’t have the heart to recycle. The TV was fogged in dust, but you’d never know it from the way Album played. The game was held in the main menu, waiting patiently for Album to pick up the discarded camouflage-green controller.
Bret had slept in his jeans, but not his shirt. It was sitting lazily folded on the coffee table beside him. There was a pile of porn magazines from 1998. Beside those were half-used candles, a ribbon, and an unraveled coat hanger. Bret sleepily thought, “what would MacGyver do?”
Bret tried to find positives.
Album ripped the headset microphone from his ear. “And how are we doing this morning?” He asked.
“I hate you,” Bret replied. “I hate everything I’ve done for you.”
“You don’t hate me,” Album replied. “Okay, you might hate me. But you can’t hate everything I’ve made you do. I’ve got you into so many great parties.”
Bret slipped in, “You’ve me tossed out of so many great parties.”
“That’s the gig, my friend. Nobody ever said you’d be popular. But you can’t say there haven’t been perks.”
Bret tried to find positives.
“The dames,” Album poked Bret with his elbow.
“Don’t say dames,” Bret said. He put on his shirt. He stood up and stretched.
Album leaned down and grabbed his smokes off the cola-stained coffee table and headed towards his balcony. Bret followed him out. He was met with warm, dry air. The desert air made him feel like he was on another planet.
He looked down at the radioactive land.
Album lit a smoke and said, “I’ve got to find a new place. The view is shit and I think I’m beginning to get away with health code violations.”
Bret asked, “How long has that pizza been in your recycling bin?”
“That’s what I mean,” Album said. “I’m obviously too much of a child to clean up after myself. I need the sort of place where they’ll kick me out if I’m this awful.”
“You could just hire a maid. They have those, you know. For money.”
“This is a thought. Still, though. I’ve got some real cash burning. New apartment-sized cash. This has been a good quarter.”
Bret said, “Lots of scumbags doing scumbag things.”
“We’re like Peter Parker, you know? Taking out the bad guys.”
“Sure,” Bret said. “You go ahead and pretend that what we do is good.”
“I sure as fuck will,” Album said.
Bret smoked in general, he wasn’t smoking now. Instead he looked out, saw a highway, his eyed focused, trying to see something in the cars zooming away. He felt the concrete on his fingers of the balcony ledge, and dug in, making his fingernails sore with the pressure.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” he said.
Album laughed. “Good. I’ve got a gig for you.”
“No,” Bret said.
“It’s an easy one,” Album said. “It’ll get you out of the house. Get your mind off things.”
Bret winced. “I mean, I need to get out of here.” He pointed down, off the balcony, towards the restless city. “I’ve got to accept the fact that this was all one giant mistake. Pick up, go home, and get back to my regular life. It wasn’t as bad as all this.”
Album flicked his cigarette off the balcony. He went back inside. “tsst.”
Bret followed, and thought about what he’d just said. It had been over a year since he’d packed up and drove south for a breather.
“I think you’re making a big mistake thinking like that,” Album said. “You’re just a little spooked from all the drama. It’s natural. Do a couple small jobs and you’ll forget all about it.”
Album sat down at his computer, opened up his email.
“Besides,” he said. “You’re fucking good at this. It would be such a waste to let some two-bit hack with an expensive dick around his neck replace you.”
Bret shook his head. It had been over a year.
“Look,” Bret said. “I get that I’m good. But haven’t you ever been really good at something you can’t stand? It kills me a little bit every day.”
add in a further argument here. It needs to go another 400 words, and album needs to really convince Bret. Maybe take out the part where Bret agrees. Hang the scene on album convincing Bret. But it’s too short right now.
“Here, I’ve got a fun one for you,” Album said, ignoring Bret by pointing to a rumour website. “Dawson.”
“I’ve shot her before,” Bret sighed. “What’s she up to now?”
Album clicked around his email and RSS feeds. “Preggers, apparently.”
“No problem,” Bret said. “I just need to do a few things first.”
Album found a story refuting the rumour. “It’s not a problem either way. Either we get the shot of her with a food baby and give people the photo op, or we get her with nothing and refute everyone. It’s a win-win day for us. Now get out of here. I’ve got more idiots to kill.”
# # #
Bret opened the door with keys he felt he probably shouldn’t own anymore. This kind of drama? This was key-returning drama. The events of the last week would have, in any real relationship, required a public space and a box of mementos, leafing through with fingers, wondering why the other person ever thought enough to organize such a pile. Bret pictured such a box. It didn’t have much he couldn’t burn and leave on the side of the highway.
And yet not only had Jenny not called for such a meeting, she hadn’t even kicked him out. She had needed a few days, and he’d made camp at Album’s, but the key had never been summoned. He was never texted with the address of a neutral, empty bar.
Jenny was there. Bret heard the clinking of dishes in the kitchen. She was cleaning up, and hadn’t heard the door. He shuffled along, hoping to get a glimpse of her before she saw him and the story moved forward. He hadn’t a damn clue what was about to happen, and a single moment of calm would have been nice to hold onto. But she saw him the second he got close enough, through the opening between the island and the ceiling cupboard. The look on her face was not unsympathetic.
“Hey,” Bret said, waving.
Jenny stopped the sink, dried her hands on a brown cloth towel. She rung it and slipped it through a ring hanging from a cupboard. Through all this, she kept her eyes on him. Jenny moved around the island and came inches from his face. Her upper two teeth bit the fat middle of her upper lip. One eyebrow raised, then another. Bret waited for a reply, studied her eyes for clues. They were iron, grey, and straightforward.
Jenny grabbed a handful of Bret’s tshirt and pulled him forward. The kiss was violent. Jenny inhaled loudly, as she always did when she kissed first. Bret waited for the exhale to step back and open his eyes again.
“I…” He began to say, but she stopped him. She put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him again, as if to say, “shut the fuck up, idiot. I’m not okay with you and I’m not okay with this. But this is what I want to do right now and don’t fucking question it.”
At least, that’s what he took it as. They moved to the couch. Shirts were thrown. Jenny’s nailed dug into Bret’s chest, leaving white marks where the blood recessed.
Jenny undressed on top of Bret. Her eyes stayed open, as if to say, “I’m conscious of this, motherfucker. This isn’t a drunk girl with no idea. I am awake to what’s happening, and what’s happening is my decision. You have so little to do with this, but you need to be here.”
Jenny held tight to Bret’s neck. It hurt him. He should have said something. It would hurt the next day, but even then he wouldn’t regret it. The pain warming his upper spine was no match for maintaining the filthy moment.
As Jenny uncorked Bret’s jeans, he calculated the fucked-wrong math: The only reason Jenny was ever in his life was because she hated what he did. That he was effectively ruined her career was the death of all resistance. She shut that out with the expertise of a psychopath, and Bret never knew just how conflicted she was. As she removed the last of their clothes, she had only a small flicker of sadness- manifest only in the sweat on her forehead, tiny drips of regret, surrender, and loathing.
Jenny wasn’t complicated. What Jenny was doing with Bret wasn’t complicated. Sometimes you love what you’re supposed to hate. Sometimes you love what you say you hate. Sometimes you don’t get to decide who you love. Sometimes you don’t get to decide what gets you off. Sometimes you’d just better wish it’s out there, that you can get your hands on it, that they don’t lock you away for enjoying it, and that there’s still a little bit of you left after it’s all over.
Jenny bit Bret’s lip, came, bit harder, and finally let go. The wound would last a week. She collapsed on him, and they lay on the couch, still together, rabid heartbeat on rabid heartbeat. Breathing slowed. Bret held Jenny in a close embrace, his arms wrapping her whole, his fingers rubbing her back in slow, irregular circles.
Bret knew that Jenny compartmentalized him, placed him firmly in the gullies of her mind, away from the decisions to go to college, to work for Reggie, to give to charity and build houses in South America in the summer of 04. He was never sure what his neighbors were.
Jenny inhaled heavily, pushed herself up and off Bret. She found her clothes, and let him watch her put them all back on.
As if he’d only shown up, she said, “I’m going to need your key.”
Bret squinted up at her. He felt heavy, and had to really push to roll off the couch. He zipped up. His shirt hung off the back of the couch. He slipped it on. Reaching inside back pocket, he took out his keychain. It only had two keys—the other started his car. He fumbled with the metal circle. Bret bit his nails, which made intricate things like jewelry and keychains difficult and somewhat painful. This one certainly hurt.
He dropped the key in her hand.
“Are we done?” He asked.
Jenny bit the inside edge of her mouth. She shrugged.
“What was that about?” He wanted to ask. He wanted to go into it right then. He wanted to fight the notion that she wanted him out because she was beginning to see how poisonous their relationship had been to the both of them. But he didn’t, because he was beginning to see it too. But only beginning to.
# # #
Bret’s car had desert stains on the bottom and sides. Every part of the bottom few inches of the white exterior shows rough, aged orange, as if it was dipped a quarter way into sulphur. It was an aught Civic with a few too many crumpled fast food bags under the seats from a few too many late night stakeouts.
Tess had called the day the photo hit the papers. She saw Album’s name in the article and knew that Bret was responsible. She wanted to see if he was all right. They had talked for a few minutes, but both were shit on the phone. Tess told him to come over on the weekend. She promised him a Ceasar with actual Clammato juice, smuggled by a friend from Red Deer.
Other than the phone call, Bret hadn’t talked to Tess since Christmas. Considering their circles, it was wild they hadn’t run into one another. Considering their history, it was wilder neither buckled and booty called.
Bret didn’t particularly want to talk about Album or Jenny or even the Governor. He just wanted to sit and listen to Tess talk about her week, which had few chances in any hell of being worse than his. He was happy they were talking again after so long.
As he drove across town, he didn’t notice the city at all. He’d become so used to the sights that they ceased becoming sights. They were just surroundings. That overhanging camera that shoots over Las Vegas in every movie, the one that makes the city seem seductive and in permanent darkness, that’s not at all what Bret saw. Mostly, he saw a half-assed attempt at a beat up town. Shack-style convenience stores. Dilapidated houses that, in a few years, would be bulldozed and replaced by more strip malls carrying cheap tshirts and phone cards. More and more, Las Vegas was turning into any other American city. Only the funny laws and shiny hotels gave it any semblance of distinction.
Bret stopped at a red light. Surrounded by late afternoon traffic, Bret lit up a cigarette, dragged slowly on it, and hung his arm out the window, the cigarette hanging from two fingers.
Beside him, an SUV with a ten year old in the passenger lane idled. The parent, an out of shape father, in the driver’s side, he sees the cigarette smoke billowing up between the two cars. His windows are rolled down. Bret wasn’t paying attention to anything but the light and the fact that the street sign has been cut in half, labelling the intersection “..den st.” The father, he piped up.
“Hey, fucker, keep your cancer away from my kid!”
The light went green, and the idling SUV sped off ahead of Bret. He didn’t get a chance to get a word in. It was a frustrating moment for Bret. Not because he hadn’t done anything wrong per se, but because he was so quickly insulted and forgotten. It was an emotion he was in touch with, but never seemed to get used to. He sat there, mouth half-open, waiting for the chance to turn.
Tess’ apartment building was next to brand new. It went up 30 floors and had a doorman and a gym and pool. As Bret waited for her to respond to the intercom, a woman in her thirties exited the door in her skin-tight workout clothes and a dog in her purse.
The scratchy, barely audible sound of Tess came through the speaker. “Hey?”
“It’s me,” Bret said. He heard the door unlock.
In the elevator, Bret sulked against the glass walls. He could see his reflection in every angle. His eyes were sunken. He looked older than he should have. The sun has been unkind to his skin, turned him leathery in his twenties.
Bret knocked on the door. It took a moment, but he heard rustling from the other end. The door opened, and there she was.
Tess was a shining spectacle of unfair standards. She was the kind of girl you crossed on the street and cursed. They shouldn’t make girls as pretty as Tess. Her perfectly straight Korean black hair framed a face you couldn’t beat with photoshop. Unlike Bret, who appeared crisped by the heat, Tess was still pearly white. Her black, reflective eyes beamed at him, both with nostalgia and a little suspicion. He had no idea how she did it.
“Hey,” she said. “I have someone over right now. But I’ll shoo her out.”
Tess lived in a boutique apartment with two small levels. As she climbed the stairs to the living room, Bret slowly followed behind, noticing that her worst habit hadn’t been helped. Tess was a promo girl, and constantly took home grab bags, and she had a problem with throwing any of it away. Bret took stock of the clutter as he climbed. Next to the overpopulated shoe rack were three stacks of fashion magazines—all the same issue. On top of the magazines were gift bags, full of unopened trinkets. A cheap ipod knockoff sat on top of one of them, still sealed in plastic. Further down the hall were piles of clear bags with tiny freebies. Signed copies of Rush Hour 3 on HD DVD. Sample sizes of the new Dior. Packets of mystery-scent candles and gum.
The living room was no better. Several blankets covered a leather couch. The coffee table was covered in magazines, plates, glasses, and cigarette packs. As far as Bret knew, Tess didn’t smoke. Maybe she’d started.
In one of the corner chairs sat a brunette. Like most people, she was taller than Tess. Fake-tanned and bejeweled, she was more made up, too. She looked ready to go out on the town in her green summer dress and black heels. The girl stood and purposefully strode toward Tess and Bret.
Tess said, “This is Trice. Trice, this is Bret.”
They shook hands. As their hands clasped, Trice squinted. Then, her hand squeezed Bret’s and held tight. She smirked, and took a half-step back, still holding onto his hand. She made that face girls make when they can’t believe what’s been placed in front of them. Guys don’t have this face, and don’t have a name for it. Bret didn’t see that Trice’s other hand was clenching into a fist.
The first punch landed on the right side of Bret’s nose. It wasn’t the hardest Bret had ever been hit, but it stunned him through sheer surprise. He’d never been punched while off the job. The second punch landed harder, and drew blood from the nostril. Bret stepped back and stumbled. He dropped to a knee. That’s when she began to kick.
“Bastard! You fucker!” Trice screamed, flailing her legs, her shins only somewhat blocked by his hands. Shots got through. Drops of blood were left on her boots.
Tess stood in shock, then did her best to pull Trice away. “The hell’s the matter with you?” She yelled, trying to get through.
Tess grabbed the backs of Trice’s arms and yanked her back, giving Bret a chance to breath. Tess turned Trice around and came between her and her blood friend.
“What the fuck, Trice?”
“Of all people,” Trice said, beginning to tremble. “Of all people, you’d understand. You’re friends with this asshole?”
Bret stood, wiped his nose with his hand, spreading blood on his skin and shirt. He coughed, and asked, “Is this about the campaign?”
Trice stood straight and cocked her head, her brow furrowed mean. “Fuck you, scumarazzi.”
“Oh,” Bret coughed. “This is about something else.”
“Come on Trice,” Tess said. “Let’s leave him alone for now.” She turned to Bret. She did her best to appear apologetic. “I’ll be right back, okay? Go get cleaned up.”
Trice backed into the stairs and backed down. She left without turning her back, without really blinking. Tess followed her, closing the door behind her, mouthing “I’m sorry” to Bret as she disappeared with her friend.
Bret blinked. He opened his mouth wide, trying to survey the damage without having to look at it. He could feel every artery in his body. His face pulsed with adrenaline.
He touched his nose. It wasn’t broken. Through red-tinted eyes, he stumbled over to Tess’ bathroom and turned on the light. The counter around the sink was so full of sample-sized perfumes, he didn’t even know where to start looking for aid. He looked under the sink for some cotton swabs. He found a few in a ziplock bag, and began dabbing the blood from under his nose. He held his head up. He held the bridge of his nose, and watched himself in the mirror. He looked like a poor idiot, a sad punk. He’d just been beaten up by a girl he’d never met, without any explanation, in the middle of the day.
The worst part was, even though he hadn’t a goddamn clue why it happened, he knew it was definitely his fault.