A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 11

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Album sat at his computer. The images were really, really great. Bret had successfully photographed a stampede of cougars into a VIP room. Scores of naked women and sex were caught. The look of desperation and shame on everyone’s faces were sublime. It would make for one of the best posts ever.

There were two problems with the set. The first was that Prince wasn’t identifiable in any of them. This was supposed to be a post about Prince, and his absence cheapened the whole thing. The second problem was that Album could clearly see Tess, and everything she had going. The irony wasn’t lost on him. He felt vindicated. He was at least a little right about her. It got him a little hard.

But could he post them, knowing what it would do to her?

Album looked at his blog. It was his adult life’s work. In totality, Album had caused an enormous amount of trouble. He liked that. He was proud of it. But he remembered the conversation he had with Bret out in the desert. He remembered his stupid idea of turning the blog into a print publication. He wondered what he really wanted out of that.

He didn’t want his words to be on paper. He wanted his words to matter.

That’s about when he called Fane and took the job. He threw in a few exceptions. He wanted a guarantee none of his writing would be censored. He wanted a guarantee that he completely controlled the creative output on the group, and he had 100% creative control on the twitter account. When Fane asked what the hell Twitter was, Album told him it was a dumb fad online, and not to worry about what he wrote there.

Album deleted the pictures. Prince wasn’t even there. There was no reason to publish the collateral damage. He kept one picture of Tess. Her tits were in excellent focus. He saved it into his pron folder.

Album wasn’t a good guy. He liked that about himself. More than anything, he figured he could have fun making Fane’s life hell.

He left a page on the blog. It wasn’t a goodbye so much as a frosty the snowman. He said he’d be back. He said he hadn’t sold out because he was taking a pay cut. He put it all out there. Made secrets public knowledge. Even his own. He complimented everyone he could by name and everyone he couldn’t. To those, he said, they’d know who they were.

He finished with a quote, as he was known to do. He chose it well, something cryptic and revealing, honest and boasting all at once. He took a quote from a Wintersleep song, a Canadian band Bret wouldn’t shut up about that he’d come to love.

At a party with nobody who will love you but the wine

Gobbled pills that the doctor should have never prescribed

Scattered letters to the boyfriends you have never identified with

Surreptitious, spilling kisses you could never quite deny

You will find me in the valleys, in the gullies of your mind

Pigeon blood-red, cut and carat in the eyelids of your blindest memory.”

# # #

Bret stood outside Jenny’s door. He knocked. She hadn’t given back his key.

Jenny opened. Hey,” she said. How’d it go tonight? Feel good that it’s all over?”

Yeah,” Bret said. I feel good that it’s all over.”

Well, come in. Tell me nothing about it.”

Bret held his ground. I can’t come in. I don’t belong here.”

Jenny was confused. What do you mean?”

Jenny, this was a mistake. I should have never come here. I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t grow. I didn’t find out anything grand about life or the universe or my own destiny. I fucked around for a year, and I’m really sorry I dragged you into my drama and messed up your life. If I stay, I’ll just make your life worse.”

Jenny stood silent. She could believe everything she heard, but she hated it.

Bret said, I love you, but I need to go home.”

Jenny slapped Bret and then shut the door. It was emphatic. She didn’t want words. She didn’t want hours of figuring it all out. She didn’t need every answer to every question, even though in the moment she really wanted a few. It was Jenny’s way of winning. And Bret let her have it.

# # #

Bret exited Jenny’s apartment building. He found his car. He saw Tess. She sat in the passenger seat. She was writing a text message. Bret got in the car. He turned on the engine. He turned on the radio, and found a station he liked.

Fuck you green world,” he said. Some of the whores on this rock are going to be all right.”

Tess looked at him with an eyebrow raised. That code for something, cowboy?”

Bret shook his head and changed the subject. What about your stuff?”

Trice is going to take care of it. I’ll come back in a bit. But this is important. Going home means something for you, and I need to be a part of that, I think. And what about your stuff, buster?”

Bret smiled. I don’t have any stuff.”

Tess smiled.

Bret pulled the car onto the road, then onto the highway. He got dust in his eyes. He was used to it.

When he couldn’t see the light of Las Vegas anymore, he asked, Are we going to be okay?”

Tess claimed, I’m okay now. You’re the train wreck. So it’s a push, really.”

Bret laughed. He drove the whole way north, up to the friendly chill that was the 49th parallel, through Alberta, passed the Rockies, past the long forests to the edge, to that cloudy western coast that felt entirely too damn good.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 10

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Fuck, it’s raining,” Trice said, looking out Tess’ balcony window. The sun shone. It was seven in the evening. The desert wind picked up, and short, burst-like sprinkles of wet God fell. We’re going to have to take a cab.”

We always take a cab,” Tess yelled from the bathroom. It’s just a shorter conversation now, that’s all.”

It’s not just me, right?” Trice asked. But there’s been a ton of rain this year.”

You should see it where I come from. Would put this to shame.”

Trice waited impatiently for Tess to finish her makeup. She’d done hers on the way, thinking they were going to leave early for drinks.

Tess came out of the washroom, ready. She plopped the strap of her purse around her shoulder and stood next to Trice, who was shaking her head as several beads of water bounced off the glass.

Come on, pussy,” Tess said. Let’s get this goddamn work over with.”

# # #

Bret sat at Jenny’s dining room table, looking at the website and floor plan for the Palomino. That morning, he’d met Album and handed him his camera. Apparently, Album knew one of the bartenders, who would smuggle the thing in for Bret to pick up once he was inside. They didn’t allow cameras in the club at any time, so it was going to take all of Bret’s cunning to get through the night without getting tossed. It was going to cost him $30 to get in the door, and he’d have to down a few drinks before picking up the point and shoot. There was no way he could have brought a quality camera in a place like that. Album knew he was going to get bad shots. But the best camera is the one you have with you, and bad shots of great things would be enough.

You’re sure Prince is going to be there?” Bret had asked.

For sure. I know he’s going to be there, and I know he’s purchased a good half dozen girls to entertain his entourage.”

How do you know all this? Wait, don’t tell me. I always ask, and I always wish you hadn’t told me. Do me a favor and never tell me anything ever again.”

Bret looked over at Jenny. She was sitting on the couch, watching television. She was the reason he was still in this city. But the fight they’d had the night before had made him question just what the hell he was doing in that apartment with her. Why hadn’t he left? He couldn’t think of a good enough reason to jump.

# # #

Album sat in his apartment in his housecoat and boxers and slippers. He wasn’t old or overweight or sad, but he felt hornier than usual. He felt too horny for jerking off, like the act wouldn’t be enough. He needed a girl. Fuck,” he said aloud. How long has it been?”

His phone rang. He answered it.

Hi, Album, it’s Reggie. Reggie Fane.”

Album smirked. Allo Gov’ner.”

Silence.

Sorry. Always wanted to do that.”

Right,” Reggie said. Look, I’ve got a favor to ask. I’m heading up this new foundation. It’s a nonprofit charity for awareness and equal rights. Sounds great, right?”

Sure, Reggie. Equal rights. That’s the American way, right?”

Absolutely!” Reggie said, sounding more like an excited Christopher Walken than the hardened businessman Album had first met. So that’s what I wanted to talk about. I need guys like you.”

What do you mean, you need guys like me?” Album lit a cigarette with the phone crouched between his ear and shoulder.

Well, you’re smart, young, and you’ve got the kids’ attention. I need a guy like you on my team. What do you say?”

What do you mean, what do I say? I have no idea what you’re asking me to do.”

Right,” Reggie said. Sorry, I forgot you’re not in politics, and i cant speak in nods You’d work for me, as a PR guy. Book meetings. Write speeches. Be part of creative, the think tank. Figure out the road ahead. Starting salary’s forty grand.”

Fuck off,” Album said. I made that in May.”

Yeah, you made that off me, fella, don’t forget that.”

You think you’re the only reason I’m as popular as I am? J-wow’s vag would be very offended.”

I’m sure it would, whatever that is,” Reggie said. Still, it may be less money, but you’d get your foot in the door with a real job, you’d get to travel, and there’s lots of girls in this sort of game.”

Album got a boner, but this being a phone conversation he did a pretty good job of hiding it. You don’t think I get tons of girls being an invisible douchebag with a blog? You must be out of your mind.”

All right, final pitch,” Reggie replied. It’ll be your chance to really change things. You want to be a journalist? Here’s a solid opportunity to make real, positive change in America.”

Shit, Reggie,” Album said, inhaling. You shoulda just kept hammering on about the skirts. That was your weakest point yet.”

Reggie said, I had a feeling you’d say no, but I had to ask. Have a good day, son.”

Album hung up.

# # #

Bret hung up the phone on Album, who had told him the camera was in place. He’d even purchased one of those expensive evdo cards, which connected to the cell tower and uploaded pictures as Bret took them. He did so only after suggesting to Bret that the camera might not make it out of the club alive, and getting the pictures was really, really important. Bret stood across the street from the Palomino, its neon sign almost a bore compared to the others downtown, not to mention the neon ceiling down the street. The Palomino was old, but it made sense a guy like Prince would party here: nobody else would bother him, and he valued his privacy more than anything. Bret had never actually seen Prince in the flesh before. Not that he was any kind of Salinger figure, but Prince was never particularly photographable. He was smart: he never partied out in public, and he had limos take him from private building to private building. Sure, candid shots of Prince existed, but they were hardly in the same numbers as, say, Topher Grace’s vagina.

Bret wasn’t particularly proud of the number of vagina’s he’d shot in his time, and saw Prince as a fitting climax. Finally, a difficult catch, one that would actually take a little bit of cunning to pull.

It wasn’t hard to get into the Palomino. The bouncer didn’t even ask him for ID. Still, the second he stepped into the black-carpeted strip club, and he heard the deep bass and sharp-tongued DJ, his adrenaline shot up and he felt the same old throttle of the work. He wore his cheap leather jacket and busted-knee jeans. He looked like he belonged in a place like this, and he wasn’t alone. The news that Prince was in the building wasn’t lost on everyone, and there were three times as many people in the club as there would usually be on a Saturday night. There wasn’t a seat to be had at any bar or any stage. There were a few clusters of girls standing around, sipping martinis. They weren’t here for the strippers. That, or they were strippers. Bret couldn’t tell. Still, he smiled. The crowd was a good thing. It meant that somebody might make a mistake. Bust a door open, that sort of thing. And if mayhem were to ensue, Bret might be able to get in there, if only for a few seconds. But that was generally all he ever needed.

Bret looked around for a brunette working the bar. There were about a dozen. Album told him that she would be wearing white, but that didn’t really narrow it down, either. The wife-beaters were out in full force with the bar staff. It was a good look for them; sexy and cleavage-powered, yet still screaming I’ll fuck you up.

He gave up, and walked up to one. She leaned forward, and he said the word. The girl ducked down, and when she returned, there was a black bag on the bar. Take it fast,” she said.

Thanks,” Bret said.

Tell Album I know about those pictures,” she said. And I’ll fuck him up for it.”

Bret thought fast. No way. You’re Vanessa, aren’t you?”

She smiled. One and the same.”

I’m sorry you two didn’t work out,” Bret said.

That’s because he’s an asshole,” she said.

That’s true,” Bret said. He is. This is my last job for him. He is an asshole. He had me followed. Ha gave me a nemesis.”

He thought that would make you stupid or something?”

Yeah!” Bret exclaimed. Exactly. It didn’t work.”

Mine didn’t either,” she said. He’s always pulling that shit on people.”

What did he think made you stupid?” Bret asked.

Vanessa poured two shots of Jager and pushed one toward Bret. She said, Working here.”

They threw back their shots. Bret nodded, thanking her again. He didn’t stop to think that maybe Album had been right, because that would be insane. He pulled the black bag down, and pocketed the tiny weapon.

# # #

An hour went by. Tess worked like a dog. Her heels killed her. Her calves were worse. Prince’s entourage was a set of slave drivers, ordering double orders of everything and downing them in record order. Prince himself hadn’t shown yet, and there were two of the dozen or so guys who had eyed Tess bad. They wanted her. She was used to this. She could have been a model if she were a foot taller. She was used to being looked at. She was used to the odd grab, even. But she wasn’t used to being cornered.

Trice had left the room to get more drinks, and these two guys, both buff and tall and wearing tank tops, had had their fill of the strippers. They stood and surrounded Tess.

Hey girl, you want to dance?”

Sure,” she smiled. Let’s dance.”

They put their hands around her and they formed a Tess sandwich. This wasn’t too far out of the ordinary, but two minutes into the song they had begun to touch her, and she had to say something.

Hey fellas, there’s girls over there who you can pay to do anything. I’m just here to serve.”

Damn right you are,” the one behind her said. And you’ll fucking serve.”

Right,” Tess said. So, drinks? I can get you drinks.”

No,” the one in the front said. You said serve. We’re going to use the liberal definition here, aren’t we?”

Yeah,” the one in the back agreed. What he said. Liberal.”

All right,” Tess said, inching her way out of from between them. Line, fellas. I’m just here to get drinks and dance. Let’s keep it cool, eh?”

The bouncer at the door that divided the private room from the rest of the club, his head turned toward the three of them.

All right, be cool be cool,” the taller one said. You’re here to make sure we have a good time.”

I’m not a fucking whore,” Tess stated, as frank as she could. And if you don’t cool down right now, I’m out of here.”

They backed off. For whatever reason, drunken men could listen to reason temporarily. They went back to their couch and talked. Tess was worried, though. She thought of leaving, then. But it hadn’t been the worst spot. She’d experienced far worse. And she could suck it up, for the money. Trice returned with another bottle of Courvoisier for the room, and the two men took their eyes off Tess for the time being.

# # #

Bret had waited nearly an hour, but he finally saw a girl leave the private room. She was a brunette, scantily clad, but too far away for him to really get a good look at. On her way back, he took a zoomed shot and went to the men’s room, closed a stall, and took a look at her.

Fuck,” he stated.

It was a sad coincidence that Trice was there. He didn’t want to cross paths with her again, especially if she was friendly with any strong-armed employees of the establishment. He really didn’t feel like getting beaten again. But that didn’t change the fact that it had been an hour and nothing had happened. Bret had to be more proactive, and he had devised a plan. He’d use the crowd.

Bret returned to the main room. More people had filled the space since he’d first entered. It was mostly women. The strippers must be confused, Bret thought. What the hell are all these women doing here?

Bret spotted a set of cougars at the bar. It made sense. Young girls had little to no interest in Prince. Most people Bret’s age and younger just thought he was weird. But forty-year-old married women with too much time on their hands still found him irresistible. And Bret was about to use this to his advantage.

He bought a martini from the bartender and raised it, getting their attention. Hey beautiful ladies,” he said, trying his best to sound like his married gay friend Gas. To Motherfuckin Prince, am I right?”

They smiled, raised their own martinis, and screamed Wooo!” And then, the one closest to Bret, a stretched-thin fake blonde with fake tits and an extremely gaudy necklace asked him if he’d heard anything, like where Prince would be, when he’d arrive, anything.

Well,” Bret said. Don’t take it from me, but take it from me, you know? I just spoke with one of his fellas in the men’s room…” and he paused, letting them believe that something may have happened in there. And he told me that, well, you see that door up there, just at the end of the room? That’s the entrance to one of the VIP rooms, and he’s going to be in there. He probably won’t come out, so if any of us girls have a chance of glimpsing the man I think we’ve got to really mow that door down. Now who’s with me!”

Again, they screamed. One of them spilled her martini, but most just sipped theirs like the classy sexy fake women they were. Bret had apparently grabbed them just at the right moment of easy drunkenness, because they all started marching to the door.

Damn,” Bret said to Vanessa across the bar. I really did not think that would work.”

If this place goes down,” Vanessa replied, holding up a bottle opener. I’m taking you down with it.”

# # #

Trice sat down on the couch with the one guy who had been really eyeing her. He was Spanish and wore his shirt half open. He whispered in her ear, and she giggled like an idiot. Tess didn’t think of it until they kissed on the couch. Still, it was her business. She’d just brought back another bottle for the guys when she saw it, and thought, Well, that’s her business.” But then the Spaniard’s hand went up Trice’s shirt, and she didn’t stop him.

The problem was, the two guys who liked Tess saw this act and then got right up and headed toward her.

Hey, bitch, you said you weren’t up for anything,” one said.

I’m not, I’m just here to drink and dance and make sure everyone has a good time.”

Well, your friend over there’s giving it up.”

That’s her business,” Tess said. But it’s not part of the job.”

Oh, I think it just became part of the fucking job,” the other said.

Tess thought, is my knife still in my boot?”

The shorter one grabbed Tess by the hair and she screamed. He was rough and his hands were hot with sweat. His breath was filled with drunken testosterone. The taller one grabbed her shirt. They were forceful, pulling her back in between them. Fuck!” She screamed.

Trice heard the scream and got up immediately. She ran toward Tess, but the tall guy inadvertently elbowed her in the stomach and knocked her down. The bouncer approached next, moving slower but with more power. He wrapped his enormous forearm around the neck of the tall guy, pulling him off Tess. The short one held onto her, though, pulling her shirt off and falling back, both of them falling to the ground.

It was at that moment the horde of cougars broke through the door, screaming and hollering and hunting for Prince. And right in the middle of them was Bret, hollering along with them, snapping pictures of the room and everything that moved. The bouncer let go of the tall guy and tried his best to corral the cougars out the door, but there were too many of them. Bret got past him and he saw Tess, topless and on the ground and his heart sank and everything about everything seemed completely fucking worthless.

Tess!” Bret screamed. Time stopped for him. The chaos narrowed. Her head popped up, her arms covering her tits. She saw him and her heart felt like a hundred pounds. He was holding a camera and must have caught her. Everything Trice had told her had come true, and way, way too soon.

Bret What the fuck are you doing here?”

What the fuck are you doing here?” He repeated back.

The bouncer saw this. He squared his feet, and bellowed EVERYBODY OUT!”

The cougars, who had collectively noticed Prince’s absence, were slowly corralled out. The entourage gathered their things and headed out the same exit. That left Bret, Trice, Tess, and the strippers. The bouncer eyed Bret and Tess.

You two,” he said. Come with me.”

They were escorted out the back. Tess put her dress back on as best she could. Bret took off his jacket and wrapped it around her, which was the first nice thing that had happened to her all night.

The bouncer put his hand out. Give me the camera.” Bret complied. The bouncer held it open in his hand, looked at it for a second, then swiftly smashed it against the back brick wall.

If I ever see you here again,” he said. That will be your liver. Got it?”

Bret held his hands up in defeat.

And you,” the bouncer said, motioning to Tess. I apologize for what those men tried to pull. Come back here some night, and I will make sure you get a free drink or ten. We pride ourselves on treating our girls right, and I regret this whole scene. Please forgive me.”

Tess bowed a little. Thanks.”

The bouncer went back in, leaving Tess and Bret alone in the alley.

 They looked at each other, impatient for the other to go first. Tess finally snapped.

Okay, just what the fuck?”

Exactly what I was thinking,” Bret said. What were you doing in there?”

Working,” Tess said. What were you doing?”

Working,” Bret said. Just like you. Well, not just like you. What happened? Why were you on the ground with your clothes off?”

There was a struggle. Two guys groped me and they took it a little far.”

Shit,” Bret said.

Yeah. Now you go.”

I was trying to get pictures of Prince for Album.”

And the women?”

Part of the plan.”

Your plan was to stampede a bunch of cougars so you could sneak in?”

Bret nodded.

Tess sniffed. Okay, that’s a pretty good plan.”

They stood there for a minute. It was getting cold. The rain had stopped hours ago, but there were still puddles in the alley.

Bret asked, Did I save you?”

Tess shook her head. Maybe. It’s hard to say. Sorry about your camera.”

Bret knelt down and picked up the pieces. He pocketed the corpse, and tried to find the memory card. It had broken into three pieces. He wasn’t sure if the evdo thing even worked.

Prince wasn’t even fucking there.”

Yeah,” Tess said. He wasn’t even fucking there.”

Bret kicked the wall in a light, Charlie Brown sort of way. Want to get a beer?”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 9

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Album danced to the dismay of the other guys. He had purchased drinks for three girls, and they were all grinding around him. The beat was slower and sexier, and Album took it as a sign to get real close. The girls complied.

What’s your name, girls?” He asked. He got something back he could barely make out. Three voices in a crowded club, it came out muzzled.

I heard Gretchen,” Album said. Which one of you is Gretchen?”

Three hands went up.

My God, three Gretchens! Let’s get all bad Mormon! Fuck yes!”

Tess sat at the bar. Her feet hurt. She’d danced with Album for an hour, then sat, needing a rest. Album was stone drunk from the beginning, another reason she kept her distance. She’d seen far too many guys have far too many and think they were Brad Pitt all of a sudden, except they ended up acting like Rob Schneider. She thought to herself, Brad Pitt hasn’t even acted in a film where he’s a gigantic douche. I don’t get it.”

Tess took a drink of her beer. She looked out on the crowd. She was happy she wasn’t working tonight, but fuck, why wasn’t she home? She could be in a bath. She could be catching up on her email and magazines. She could be calling her mother. She could be watching a movie with Bret. And then she realized she wasn’t with Bret anymore, and that she hadn’t been in some time. She wondered if they were even friends, or if she wanted even that.

It was at that point Tess missed home for the first time. She missed Bret from home, too.

Album returned from dancing with the Gretchen’s and high-fived Tess.

Can you believe it? They were all named Gretchen.”

Sure,” Tess said, not wanting to bother arguing. That’s crazy.”

Let’s do this,” Album said to nobody.

Tess didn’t reply. He put a hand on her shoulder.

Seriously, let’s do this,” Album screamed in her ear.

Fuck man, you don’t have to yell. Do what?”

Run this town. Your beauty and ability to get in any room in the city, and my website. We can alter things. Fix things. Break things. Whatever. We could totally be in charge.”

Are you offering me a job? What would help run things” look like on a resume?”

Oh, I don’t fucking know. I don’t have a resume. I’m a Blogger for fuck’s sake.”

Well, think of a title and get back to me.”

Oh,” Album spit. His tone changed. And your resume’s stellar. You’re a pretty face in the crowd. That’s what you get paid for.”

Yeah,” Tess said. And I get paid very well for it.”

Album got another beer. Tess tried to stop him.

Hey, it’s only 1am. Don’t you think you should pace a little?”

Fuck off,” Album said. Isn’t it your job to push booze?”

I’m not on tonight. I’m out with you. And you’re an embarrassment.”

Album looked at her. He could have done anything at that moment. But he opted for trying to kiss her.

The slap was hard.

Tess stamped out through to the casino and out the door to fresh desert air. Album didn’t follow her out. He didn’t have anything to fight for. He put the new cold glass bottle against his cheek and shrugged. He checked the score of the Rockies game on the screen above the bar and went hunting for Gretchens.

# # #

Bret awoke to the warm air from Jenny’s lips. They’d slept close, hands clasped, his arm underneath his pillow, underneath hers. Jenny was nude. She was the first naked woman Bret had seen since he’d last been right here, in this bed. He looked at Jenny’s still sleeping face and liked how she expressed no emotion and yet looked happier than any time she was awake. He lifted a few strands of her hair out of her face, and he worried whether meeting Album was the worst thing to ever happen to him.

Jenny made him want to stay, and when nobody’s pulling you in any direction, a naked ex can shake the heavens.

Bret lifted himself slowly out of bed and made way to the kitchen. He boiled water, prepared coffee. It was habit he’d grown out of while alone; the first day he was by himself, he made three times too much. Jenny hadn’t changed where anything was. She hadn’t redecorated or rearranged or even painted. Jenny’s apartment stood silent, without judgment, figuring all along they would get back together.

Jenny came out wearing pajamas. She could sleep naked, but she couldn’t walk around like that. She tried to fix her hair but it wasn’t going to happen. Her face scrunched. She wasn’t used to seeing Bret in the mornings.

What are you…” she stopped. Remembered.

I can get out of here if you want,” Bret said. It was your idea, but I get it if you want to take it one day at a time.”

No,” Jenny murmured, slinking into a chair beside her kitchen table. Is that coffee you’re making? Do you remember where everything is?”

Yeah,” Bret said. He poured the boiling water into the french press. Four minutes.”

So, wow,” she said.

Oh, don’t start that,” Bret said. Don’t act all surprised we hooked up. You wanted me and I had a concussion.”

You have a concussion?” Jenny asked.

Maybe,” Bret said. I should probably go to a clinic today.”

Should I ask?”

Bret blinked, and then thought what the hell? He said, This guy has been stalking me and we got into a fight yesterday before you called and I broke a camera over his head, then I got arrested but the cop let me go because he used to skip the border for weed.”

Jenny’s lips pursed inward. She said, I don’t know if I like your life.”

I’m not crazy about it myself. It doesn’t matter. I’m quitting today. I’ve taken my last shot.”

Jenny perked up. Are you sure about that? I mean, you won’t get an objection from me. But is this what you want?”

Yeah, definitely. It’s an albatross, you know? It really sinks you. I want to do good but I can’t. Every single result from this work hurt somebody. And I just can’t deal with that anymore.”

Well,” Jenny said, getting up, throwing her arms around Bret, and kissing him on the nose. I’m proud of you. You’ve grown a lot in the last month.”

Bret kissed her back. It lasted until the coffee was ready. Bret poured, and they sat. The sunlight came in through one window. It was warm, but not crazy.

Oh,” Jenny said. I remember my dream.”

What did you dream?”

I think we had a threesome with God.”

I’m sorry? We fucked God?”

Yeah, or maybe it was Santa Claus.”

Bret laughed.

You,” Bret said, kissing her. Need a really expensive shrink. You’ve got to get over this old man thing. It’s making me insecure.”

She kissed back.

# # #

It was a hot and dry but sweet summer day. The tourists were out, the signs shone bright against the sun, and everything smelled of good waste. Bret got out of his car and looked up at Album’s apartment complex. He put his sunglasses away and entered, pressed the button for the elevator and waited. He felt solid, like a man with an easy to-do list. Pick up eggs. Place a long distance call. Quit your fucking job.

Bret arrived on Album’s floor and what he saw ruined everything. He saw the back of the camera man, walking away from Album’s door, towards the stairs. Bret began to chase him, but stopped after two steps. Did he really want another fight? What was the point? He was never going to figure this asshole out. He was never going to explain himself. He’d just disappear again. He was another Vegas nut ball, just like Bret in a way. Bret straightened out, and thought, Helping or hurting? Helping, or hurting?

So Bret stepped slowly, and when he couldn’t hear the camera man’s steps anymore, he knocked on Album’s door.

Hey man,” Album said, opening up. He was wearing a kimono. Bret didn’t care why. What’s shaking? You missed a hell of a party last night.”

I don’t care,” Bret said. And then he placed his hands on his hips, and calmly asked, What’s your relationship with him?”

With who?”

You know who. I just saw him leave your apartment.”

Album paused. He sat down in his desk chair and swiveled a little bit. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

The camera man,” Bret said. The guy who’s been following me around. The guy that fought me in a parking lot yesterday.”

Oh,” Album said nonchalantly. Him.”

Bret shook his head. Christ, Album. Do you have something to do with him?”

Of course. I hired him.”

You….you what?” Bret was confused, and very, very pissed off.

I hired him. To be your nemesis.”

Bret considered storming out right there and heading for the nearest bat store.

All of this, the paranoia that asshole put into me, the fight, the cameras. It was all because of you? Why the fuck would you do that to me?”

Because,” Album said. I needed you.”

Bret wished his eyes could shine bright. He wished he could shoot Album right there and get away with it using cowboy law.

He said, You’re going to explain yourself. You’re going to give me your story. And then you’re never going to see me again.”

Maybe. I was hoping it would last longer than this. All’s well, though. He was getting expensive. I had to pay double because of what you did to his face. I mean, a camera to the head? What were you thinking? That kind of shit’s expensive.”

Bret didn’t waiver. Explain.”

All right,” Album said, getting up. He dragged himself to the fridge and pulled out a beer. He motioned Bret to take it, but he just stood there, gritting his teeth. Album shrugged and popped the cap open on the edge of the counter and took a swig. The second Fane’s photo leaked to the bigger press and you saw what was going to happen, you were like a completely different person. Before that, you didn’t care what lives you affected. It was like your jiminy cricket fucking conscious suddenly woke up. So I thought, what’s going to keep you grounded? What makes you stupid? What makes you think day to day, without any real time to plan for the future? I needed a good camera man, so I hired another one to spy on you. Because you’re the kind of guy who needs a conflict. You need your own personal drama. You need a nemesis, someone who you can’t figure out but is one step ahead of you.”

That,” Bret cut in. Is the most fucked up thing I’ve ever heard.”

Album smiled like a crazed villain. But it worked, didn’t it? You kept working. You stopped worrying about Reggie, you got over Jenny, you didn’t go back to Tess, and you’re still here, taking pictures. It all worked out.” Album took a swig. He proclaimed, I’m a genius. Probably a bastard, but a genius nonetheless.”

Bret’s eyes lit up a little. Actually, asshole, I never really stopped feeling guilty about Reggie. Jenny and I are back together as of last night, and I tried going back to Tess, but she turned me down because I was so far away from having my shit figured out. You know, shit I probably could have figured out if I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every five minutes because a psycho had it out for me.”

Well,” Album said. I guess it didn’t work out so well. Still, you’re still here. You’re still taking pictures.”

Actually, I came here to quit.”

Fuck no. I refuse. You can’t quit.”

You hired a guy to stalk me. You get no say whatsoever in my career path.”

I hired him to keep you doing what you do best. What, you’re going to go back to Canada, back to the job you hated? Back to the cold, rainy, hippie-filled winters of fucking Vancouver? And what, you think Tess is going back with you? Trust me, man. I was with her last night. That slice is Vegas bred, baby. She’s not going anywhere. Though I guess you’re not going anywhere if you’re back fucking that republican bitch. I always hated her. You don’t get it, and that’s fine, but I was your best friend. I knew what you needed, and I was there to provide.”

What do you mean you were with Tess last night?”

Album said nothing. He just smirked.

And that’s when Bret hit him with a left hook.

Album fired back, a hard left to Bret’s stomach. Bret took it in and lunged at Bret. They fell over Album’s chair, knocking his beer over and ramming into Album’s desk. Everything rattled. Bret rallied on Album’s head with quick, hard shots. Album flailed. Neither men were all that great at this, and it quickly degenerated into rolling and shoving and the odd stomach punch.

Fuck, get off me asshole,” Album said. We didn’t do anything. Fuck.”

Bret got off Album. He breathed hard. He let Album up.

Sorry,” Bret said. I’ve been getting into too many fights lately.”

You fucking Canadians, apologizing for everything.”

Yeah, well. You fucking Americans keep trying to fuck everything up.”

Noted,” Album said. Look, I’m sorry if your nemesis didn’t work out for you. It was a weird plan and there was a pretty good chance it was going to blow up in my face.”

Bret laughed. It was the first time he’d heard Album apologize for anything.

I still don’t know if you get it,” Bret said. You mess with people’s lives. You mess with the people who help you mess up people’s lives. Nobody is happier at the end of this process. Nobody is better off with their tits on the internet or egg on their face. Nobody is better off naked and famous.”

I, for one, still think there’s a lot of value in brutal truth,” Album said. And it pains me to see that you’ve lost your appetite.”

Yeah, I think it all just stops at brutal. I’ll be seeing you.” Bret turned to leave.

Wait,” Album said.

What? What could there possibly be?”

I have a going-away present for you.”

Bret turned. What?”

One last job,” Album said.

Oh, Fuck you,” Bret said. I’ll hit you again. In the face. With a brick.”

No, seriously, you’re going to want to do this one. If you’re going to quit on me, the least you can do is accept this. It’s a challenge, but I’ll pay you triple. Consider it vacation pay, severance, and bribe money all wrapped in one.”

Bret wanted to sock Album again, but then thought about the practicalities. He was about to be out of a job. Jenny was broke, too. One more gig might hold him over for a little while. Especially if it was triple. Especially if it was easy.

Who?”

Prince.”

Prince?”

Prince. The artist formerly renamed as.”

Prince,” Bret chewed.

The Palomino,” Album said, swigging.

Bret thought about it. Fine, but this is it. I’ll get him with a couple of strippers.”

It’ll be sad to see you go,” Album said. You were the best photographer I ever worked with. Even if you did suck at COD.”

Bret stated, I thought we were on the same team.” Bret shook Album’s hand, and left. He felt like shit all over again, like the inside of a whore’s boxing glove.

# # #

I’m not working the Palomino,” Tess stated, matter-of-fact-like.

I can’t do this one without someone I trust,” Trice said. It’s crazy money. We’re talking Prince money. Thousands in one night.”

I don’t do nude work, Trice. You know that. Cigarettes. Booze. Free swag. That’s my racket. You and your sister do whatever you want.”

It’s not nude, though. Just the other girls. We’re there to be arm candy for the entourage, to pour drinks and fill up the VIP section.”

Get someone else,” Tess said. I’m getting so sick of this shit, anyway.”

What? This is the life, bitch. This is the fucking life.”

It wasn’t always like this. Not for me, anyway.”

Look, bitch,” Trice said. It’s tons of money. It’s five hours. It’s at the old strip club, so what? What’s the worst that’s going to happen?”

Answer’s no,” Tess stated.

Trice argued with Tess for another half hour, with little give. Finally, she threw up her hands and asked what Tess’ problem was. The problem turned out to be energy. Tess was tired of doing the job. She was tired of removing herself from every night. She was sick of playing a character. More than anything, though, she was scared that she was becoming more and more like the character she put on. She felt like less and less of her woke up every morning, and less and less of her went to bed every night.

Finally, though, Trice did talk Tess into the job. Tess wasn’t even sure what the big turn around was. Maybe she was just sick of arguing the point. Going along seemed easier. And she hated herself for being what she spent the better part of the afternoon arguing she wasn’t.

# # #

You can’t go one day without getting into a fight, can you?”

Jenny pressed a damp washcloth into Bret’s swollen forehead. Back in her apartment, Bret found solace and warmth and all the things associated with a woman once loved.

Didn’t I tell you? I’m joining the Ultimate Fighting thing.”

You’re not funny,” Jenny said, pressing in so he’d feel it.

Bret smiled. At least it’s over. Well, almost over. He talked me into doing one more. But it’ll be for a lot. It’ll tie us over for a while until we both find work.”

Good,” Jenny said. God knows I’ve been trying. I’ve been looking at all sorts of jobs over the last few weeks. I’ve even had the odd interview, but as soon as people find out I was part of Fane’s team, I’m out the job. I’m pretty well blackballed.”

Really? It’s that bad, huh?”

You don’t know what you did to me, asshole.”

They kissed. It was still kind of weird for both of them.

They left the bathroom and Bret sank into the bed, curling in. Jenny followed, crawling over him, planting her face right in front of his.

We’re cute, you know. As a couple. My sister said so.”

Yeah?”

It’s why I got back together with you, I think.”

Your sister?”

Yeah, she was relentless. I told her to ask you out.”

You should’ve. She’s cute.”

But not cuter than me, right?”

Right.”

Because that’s the right answer.”

Right.”

Bret held her for a moment. The room was still and air-conditioned. He could hear the motor coming from the box in the wall, above them. Sometimes he had trouble sleeping, and he blamed it on that motor.

Bret thought of something. Hey, if you need money, I could hook you up with some work.”

What kind of work?” One of Jenny’s eyes squinted.

I’ll call Tess. She can get you into some things.”

Jenny sat up.

No thanks.”

Bret looked at her, puzzled. Why not? It’s good money. Tess tells me it’s pretty easy. And you’re pretty.”

Jenny glared at Bret. Qualifications aren’t the issue, Bret. I don’t want to do that job.”

What? Promo stuff? Why not?”

I just don’t, Bret. Don’t you think I’m a little better than that?”

Better than what?”

I don’t want to talk about it,” Jenny said. But the answer’s no.”

Bret was all of a sudden pretty uncomfortable. Is it because my ex does it?”

No.”

Then what?”

Because I graduated from UNLV, Bret. Because I was the secretary to the Governor a few weeks ago. Because I have dignity, mainly.”

What’s dignity got to do with it? It’s work.”

Jenny put a hand on Bret’s shoulder. Just because you don’t find any dignity in work doesn’t mean I don’t, honey. Okay? End of discussion.”

I… Bret stopped himself. I don’t know how to feel about this. That was some pretty harsh judgment.”

You just told your girlfriend to go be a stripper, Bret. How do you think I feel?”

It’s not stripping. Tess doesn’t take her clothes off. You’re just peddling stuff. Booze. Smokes. That kind of thing.”

Yeah, you’re really selling it. Do you want to watch TV or something? Let’s change the subject.”

Fine, whatever.”

They found their way to the living room, turned on the television. There was nothing but reruns, but they sat in silence for nearly an hour before falling asleep.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 8

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Jenny fell in her mind, through the floor, through forever. She stood still. Nobody noticed where her mind had gone. She looked at her watch to see if it had slowed, but it hadn’t. Her mind marked the moment. Reggie took questions in the background on the giant televisions. Nothing moved slower, but Jenny didn’t know what to think anymore. What the fuck had just happened?

Jenny left the store half embarrassed to have stayed so long. She felt so guilty she bought a pair of headphones she had no plans to use. She floated through the rest of the Ceasar’s mall. She had known about Reggie and his condition. She could have broken this news years ago. She was in on the private meetings. The people around her, if they’d knew, they’d hate her. They’d throw things. They would see her as a villain. She figured Reggie wouldn’t mention anymore on his staff by name, but then again, it was public knowledge. People would figure it out. People look things up. Jenny found a ludicrously expensive clothing store and shuttered herself in a change room with a red dress she grabbed from a rack without checking the size. The hung the dress and sat, leaning against the wall. This wasn’t about her, she whispered. She felt the need to repeat it a few times. Reggie would be kicked out of the republicans for this, for sure. But he would have known that. It wasn’t about her, but she was feeling every decision as if it was.

She thought about that son of a bitch Album, and how this was really all his fault. He’d turned Bret against her. For all she knew, Bret hadn’t seen this. Maybe she could talk to him, maybe commiserate. It may have been all over, but he was the only person she shared this with. She breathed normally, and fished for her phone.

# # #

Bret watched the speech, and was fucking glued. It was the first time in his entire life he wasn’t punished for affecting another persons’ life. He had no name for the emotion he was feeling, so he rounded down to relief. The speech itself was something else, but the q&a afterwards was truly revealing. Fane went on to explain how long he’d been gay (his whole life), why he buckled to societal demands, if he was going to hell, what’s going to happen to his marriage (it’s over), and whether or not he knows what he’s doing is an abominable sin (he’s well aware). He said he plans to spread awareness and lend a hand to the burgeoning gay community. To Bret, it was like watching the moon landing. It was impossible, but there it was. In Bret’s lifetime, no politician had ever spoken like this. At least, that’s what he figured. Bret blinked. How many politicians did he know? He never really cared about this stuff. Maybe they were all like this. But then, the woman on CNN reporting the story wouldn’t have called it crazy historic, y’all.” Maybe there was someone, but certainly nobody in Bret’s periphery. How many assholes had grown a pair and owned up in front of everyone like Fane? In the 80s, 90s, and this broken decade, public figures were sheepish, cowardly, or a stereotype of acceptable behavior; the bold cowboy, the altruistic businessman, the cold, independent woman. We can love money and success, but never each other. We can aspire to greatness, but never pleasure. And here comes Reggie fucking Fane, the man Bret struck down with the only weapon more powerful than money or bombs, and he not only does the right thing by nailing himself to the wall but goes a mile further, effectively ending an era and changing the conversation. Bret had absolutely no idea what to think of this.

 He dressed and hit the street, packing his favorite camera. It was going to be a gesture of surrender. He liked this thing. It felt more solid in his hands than any remote control or steering wheel. The extended focus lens gave it more heft, but more bulk, and there was really no comfortable way to carry it except around his neck like an amateur journalist. He always hated the feeling of bulk plastic against his chest, but at least he wouldn’t have to do it much longer. He was going to find Album, and he was going to hand in his badge.

The revelation hit him the way they always did, quietly, then suddenly, in the night, with no warning. He didn’t care if the governor was cool with his new open gay life, but the speech itself moved something in Bret. He felt solidified. Bret needed out.

He checked his cell phone. No messages. No jobs. He had no idea how Album was feeling. Knowing Album, he was drunk already, enjoying some kind of sick victory. No doubt Album was taking it as such. Or maybe he was just high, sitting half naked in a ditch, spewing bullshit philosophies to whoever doddered by. Album was a weird guy.

Album was high, half naked, and well on his way to being drunk, too. It was noon, and as drove past the Flamingo, he felt like celebrating like a champion. Album found the phone in his back pocket of a pair of sweat pants strewn over a chair, and began to liberally speed-dial together a party.

Hi,” Bret said on the other end.

Pizzane!” Album proclaimed. My hero! My guest of sparkling, pissing honor!”

Listen,” Bret said. Where the hell are you? Where have you been?”

I’m on my way home to organize a party and order some hookers. You there?”

I just left. Look, we’ve got to talk, preferably sans hookers,” Bret said. I have a lot to talk about.”

Album stopped smiling. He was afraid of this. He had the slightest inkling Bret might have taken Reggie’s admission differently than he should have. Album hadn’t properly formulated a plan, so he stalled.

Dude, I’m actually super fucking busy right now.”

Bullshit, you were just about to invite me to some big party.”

Album paced. Yeah, yeah, but not until tonight. You don’t want to be over there right now. It reeks of piss and pot and cum.”

Actually, I spent the morning cleaning the place. It reeks of water lilies and pot and cum now.”

What?” Album yelled. Why would you clean my place? What kind of faggy Canadian gesture is that?”

Truly, we live in a different time now,” Bret said.

 Album stalled. Look, I’ll be home in like an hour or so. Go grab some beer and I’ll meet you.”

# # #

Bret stalked toward the parking lot across from his apartment. It was an old habit from an old paranoid hang-up, but Bret never parked in the same place twice. He crossed the street, and as he entered the car park, he was blindsided, shoved from the side into a black SUV. The blow set off the alarm. His assailant stepped back, and gave Bret room to breath, room to see who he was. Bret’s right arm held his sore left, and saw the camera man, standing cocky.

The camera man must not have seen retaliation as one of Bret’s options, or else he would have tried to block Bret’s right hook, which landed just high of his left temple. The camera man buckled and stepped back, almost down to one knee. But then he was up, faster than Bret thought. But Bret caught him again, a better shot, a cartoon boxing punch straight down the middle of camera man’s face. This time it was Bret who stepped back, and spoke.

Who are you?” Bret demanded.

The camera man wiped his nose, checking for blood. He said nothing, but took out a small camera the size of a cell phone from his jeans. He aimed and took a picture.

What,” Bret screamed. Is your fucking problem?”

The camera man chuckled low, and turned to leave.

Oh no,” Bret said. No. I’m so fucking sick of this.”

Bret charged him, knocking him against a sedan. Another alarm went off. Bret’s shoulder planted into the camera man’s ribs. Bret rammed him against the car several times. Finally, the camera man fought back, dropping his elbow against Bret’s back.

The scrimmage went back and forth longer than Bret or even the camera man likely wanted. Neither of them were real fighters, and the shots Bret made were his first since high school. He felt he could have been stronger, could have hit harder. He should have practiced, but who expects to be jumped? Who expects to be stalked and photographed? You can’t prepare for this shit. All you can do is swing and hope you’ve got something behind it. All you can do is react.

Exhaustion began to set in Bret before surrender, and he found himself wondering if maybe walking away was the best answer. He backed off, caught his breath, and saw his favorite camera on the ground where it had dropped when he’d been shoved the first time. He reached for it, stretched his arm, feeling sure the camera man would lunge at him or shoot him or something. But he didn’t. He stood there and waited for Bret to pick up his bruised weapon. The camera man did nothing.

Tired and in a hard day’s amount of pain, Bret gave the camera man a long look of confusion and pity and submission, and turned to walk away.

Bret stole only a handful of peaceful steps before he heard the sound of asphalt against the camera man’s heels, coming fast. Bret barely turned around in time, but he did. The camera levelled against the side of his nemesis’ face. Bret heard a sound he’d never heard before, something in between a car crash and a balloon pop. Bret’s camera fell in three pieces, maybe four. The camera man’s face stayed relatively intact. Both fell hard.

Bret stepped back like he’d just cut the blue wire. He wasn’t sure what kind of damage a hulking digital camera could do when used as a weapon. He’d never thought to calculate such a thing.

It took Bret a few seconds to realize the camera man wasn’t going to get back up. Bret knelt next to him and hesitantly checked the unconscious man’s pulse. Bret smiled. He hadn’t killed him. Nothing that a couple days of xbox couldn’t cure.

# # #

Bret heard a gun cock right behind him. The cop, a strong, deep-voiced guy with a thick goatee told Bret to keep his hands up.

Holy shit,” Bret said. How long have you been here?”

Whole time,” the cop said, pulling Bret’s hands behind him and feeling out for his cuffs. That was quite a dust up.”

The cop put Bret in his car, told him to stay still, and went back for the camera man. But the camera man was already gone.

Son of a bitch!” Bret could hear from the back seat. The officer came back in.

Fucker was playing possum,” he said.

Bret replied, I’m not surprised.”

You two punks know each other?”

You could say that,” Bret said. I don’t know his name. I never quite understood what he wanted with me.”

You get that in this town,” The cop said.

Why didn’t you just arrest us before we knocked each other loopy?”

Well, to tell you the truth, I’m short my quota this month and wanted to bring you both in myself. I figured it’d be easier to round you up if you were already busted.”

Bret, for whatever reason, was understanding. Even though he knew getting fingerprinted would get him a quick trip back across the border, it was where he was heading anyway. He used to be so worried about the police, but he didn’t have anything here, anymore.

Fine,” Bret said. Process me. But can you be nice about it at least? I’m Canadian.”

What did you say?”

Bret wasn’t sure why he said that. Maybe it was something he’d always wanted to say.

I’m from Vancouver,” Bret quipped.

The cop extended his hand, then rescinded once he realized Bret was still in handcuffs and there was a steel grate between them.

I’m from Spokane,” The cop said. Me and my buddies used to cross the border all the time to get fucked up. Vancouver was always so nice.”

The cop pulled Bret out of the car and took off the cuffs. Shit, I can’t hardly arrest you if there’s no proof you beat up anybody. Something tells me that guy ain’t squeeling.”

Probably not,” Bret said.

Straight out of a Dick Tracy novel or something.”

I don’t know who that is,” Bret said. But thanks for this. You’re probably the nicest guy I’ve met in America.”

After the cop left Bret next to his car, he wasn’t sure if any of it had really happened. Had he really charmed his way out of an arrest? His face hurt. He didn’t know what the hell to think anymore. Which is why this was the worst possible time for Jenny to call.

# # #

Album hung up the phone and immediately dialed more numbers. Tess said Hello,” from the other end.

How’s my favorite ski bunny?” Album asked.

Album,” Tess said. I’ve told you this six times. I’ve never skied before. I don’t even like the cold. It only ever went down to five degrees where I’m from, and it almost never snowed..”

No human can survive five degrees, woman.”

Tess laughed. Celsius, plebeian. We won the war.”

What war?”

We burned down your government building. Canadians are the reason you have a white house.”

I thought that was the British.”

We were British, hick. Sort of, anyway.”

Whatever love, I’m inviting you out.”

Why?”

Because I won. I won a million lotteries. I beat not only that fag politician, I beat the major news agencies, I beat everyone. I’m the king of today, and the king plans on eating out.”

Tess sighed, her fingers itching to curl a phone cord that hadn’t been there for years. You know that tomorrow you’re going to go back to being a pumpkin, right?”

All the more reason to make it count. Why all the hate? I remember us being pretty close once upon a time.”

Album, this whole thing has really torn Bret apart. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed. You can’t expect me not to have mixed feelings toward the devil on his shoulder.”

I don’t recall you being that far from that shoulder yourself. You gave him the same advice, remember?”

Yeah, but that’s been kind of eating at me too. I feel like two people, and I don’t like either of them. You seem to be the only happy person around these days.”

Album wasn’t expecting this, but he had a canned response anyway.

Tess, baby, we were right. That fag’s life, even though, hell, especially because we fucked with it, is going to be better. You saw the speech this morning. He basically thanked us.”

I suppose that’s one insanely egotistical way of looking at it.”

Tell you what,” Album said. Let’s just do this tonight. Take a small shred of pride in my public service, and then tomorrow you can go back to hating me and everything I represent.”

Tess had nothing else, so she said, I’ll put serious stock into thinking about it.”

# # #

Bret didn’t know why he always rushed to be with Jenny, but he had. He chalked it up to her being the one, but why was he still doing it? Why was she still the only phone number he had memorized? What was wrong with him?

He knocked on her door. It used to be his door, too. He used to have a key. His face and ribs still hurt a little, but he wasn’t mad. He was mostly confused as to why she wanted to talk and why he hadn’t taken a cab to a hospital.

Hey Bret,” she said, hugging him. He winced. Thank you for coming on such short…Oh my God, are you bleeding?”

Maybe,” he said. There’s a possibility. I didn’t really check.”

Let me take care of that,” Jenny said, souring her face and pulling him into the bathroom by the entrance. Come in here.”

She put a damp washcloth to his forehead, and he looked down at her and she looked back at him and he only got more confused. The last time he saw her, she was in the hospital, but she wasn’t vulnerable. She’d kicked him out, and Fane had been there. He wasn’t vulnerable then, either. It really wasn’t that long ago, but everything was different.

There,” Jenny said. Feel any better?”

I don’t know,” Bret said. Do you?”

What a cryptic question. What the hell happened?”

Oh, nothing. I feel up some stairs.”

How do you? Never mind. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. Some girl probably punched you for snapping a shot or something. And you probably deserved it.”

Thanks,” Bret said. It’s been a while since you’ve insulted me.”

Jenny straightened up. Come,” she said. They sat down on her couch, the one she’d bought two months into the relationship that she wouldn’t let him pitch in for.

We need to talk,” she said.

That sentence, Bret knew, was never a good thing. It meant the end of a job or a relationship. There was never a situation where it ended well. But this relationship was already over. He’d already been brought into the cold office to be let go without warning. And there had been no legal hangups keeping them together. Unless she was planning on drugging him and selling his organs and she was asking for permission, he really didn’t know what to worry about.

I think you may have been right,” she said. And I might have been wrong.”

About what?”

What do you think, Bret? Reggie.”

You saw this morning, huh?”

Yeah, but that wasn’t entirely it. My sister’s been a big fan of yours, and she never got out of my ear about you. That probably had more to do with it than the speech, but maybe that was the tipping point. I don’t know. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

More reversals. That line’s usually used in breakups, too.

What?” Bret asked.

Ask you,” she paused. If you wanted to give us another shot.”

Bret couldn’t think from one moment to the next. He was purely reactionary. It was possible he had a concussion.

Look,” Jenny continued. I fucked up. I made a call to hate what you’d done and to hate you. You betrayed my trust and in the process destroyed my job blew my boss’ life wide open. I acted quickly and I judged you. It’s not easy for me to say this, but I did. I compartmentalized you into this box and you didn’t deserve it. I called you the worst names I knew and kicked you out and you had to stay at that slimey blogging asshole’s place. And that’s just it. I still that that asshole plenty. I never liked him. But he poisoned you against me, and what was I supposed to do? Be totally fine with all of it? I couldn’t. I had to react. I had to dump you, Bret. I didn’t feel like I had any choice, and if I could go back, I don’t know that I wouldn’t dump you all over again. But I still regret doing it, and I still want to undo the damage.”

Bret cleared his throat. He bit his lip. He bought as much time as mannerisms could buy. But she still stared, waiting for some kind of response.

I don’t know, Jenny,” Bret said. I really don’t.”

Bret,” she said. I know this must come as a bit of a shock, but I still think we’re right for one another. Don’t you?”

Jenny could never read Bret like Tess could, so Jenny had no idea what little Bret was thinking. He was seriously wondering if he should go to the hospital. But thoughts of putting this relationship back together crept in. And the rejection he received from Tess had painted him red with embarrassment, and here was his ex American asking for another go. How hypocritical could he be? How could he get rejected and then turn around and reject? It wasn’t right, and he couldn’t think straight, so he kissed her. He couldn’t think of anything else to do.

The clothes came off. Bret never told Jenny how much he needed a win after weeks of being pulled apart by this city, or even that he considered her a win.” She didn’t tell him how long it had been since someone had looked in her eyes with entirely animal intentions. They’d come to these conclusions using entirely different maps, but there they were, both in need of air and new life.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 7

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Reggie Fane wiped his forehead with the hand towel. He stood in a washroom of a gas station three miles away from the speech, the key attached to a small plank of wood sitting on the side of the sink. The mirror was surprisingly clean, and he could see himself almost head to toe. He ran his fingers through his short, back-gliding hair. This morning, he’d woken nervous. He kissed his wife goodbye. He’d shaven. He’d read the Wall Street Journal.

In the gas station, he felt the bald spot that had begun to inch larger in the last year. He hadn’t paid much attention to it until recently, since he’d stepped down during that first, hollow speech. He remembered what he’d said.

My fellow citizens,” he said. I’m sorry. We’re all sorry. This is an unfortunate circumstance, and I cannot in good faith continue as your representative.”

He thought about the thing Album had told him, the semi-famous line everyone had said to themselves at least once.

Album, he said Buddy, to be honest, you didn’t start representing the people of this fine state until you started fucking around.”

Fane didn’t have any problems with his first speech until a few days after when he’d read an article on Yahoo news that dissected it, declaring it a near-duplicate to congressman Hafferty’s resignation speech from 2003. Hafferty had gone through a similar disgraceful fall.

Fane held the bathroom key. It was firm, like it would last forever. He compared poorly.

# # #

Bret woke trying to remember his dreams, if he had dreamed at all. Breathing slow, blinking slow, Bret sat up and got off Album’s couch. He shuffled to the west-facing window, to the view. He yawned. He’d slept in.

He called album but got his voice mail. Album hadn’t come home, or answered his phone. He called Tess but hung up before the first digital ring. Finally, he looked himself in the mirror and decided he should clean the fuck up.

Bret spent the morning cleaning. He bagged all the loose trash. He windexed everything with a reflection. He took the elevator down and grabbed some pledge and a mop from the corner Walgreens. He went back up, pledged, and mopped. Album’s waste was too much to bear. He had to do something about it.

While he waited for the kitchen linoleum to dry, he looked at the 3x5 on the fridge. It was a shot he’d taken on Vancouver on the skyway. It was a picture of a sleeping couple, their bodies swaying with the train, their heads stuck together in the best low-jack cuddle Bret had ever seen. Their hands were full carrying shopping bags and. The woman held tight to a wrapped bouquet of poinsettias. They were so worn out that their heads collapsed on one another. They could wake up but they didn’t want to. All they could muster was their foreheads touching, but it was all they needed.

He’d taken it without their permission. He hadn’t woken them to see if it was okay. He just snapped.

# # #

Album cranked the stereo on his car. He fucking loved this song.

He smoked a thin joint. He wanted what was left of his stash to last all day. Album wasn’t a gambler. He didn’t celebrate prematurely unless he knew for certain what was going to happen. And the only way to do that was to make sure every outcome came out a winner. He had placed a big, grinning official picture of Fane up on the website. Right next to it was Bret’s picture of the former governor. Underneath, the text read: two nights ago, Reggie Fane came by the headquarters of this site and had a sit down interview with Album Yukes. Although Mr Fane did not allow a tape recorder, he will apparently answer all of your questions at an impromptu press conference later today.”

For half of the day before, album was worried. He’d had the post up all morning, but no other news agencies had reported on the story until Fane himself announced it in a press release. No mention of Album’s site was mentioned on either FOX or CNN.

The fuckers, Album thought at the time. They never credit the bloggers.

# # #

Tess woke with a sleepy grin and a forgetting demeanor. She’d forgotten what had happened the night before. She’d forgotten her dreams. She’d forgotten the weekend job up ahead. She existed, for a pint of seconds, in no place, time, holding no responsibility over anything or anyone. This moment passed and then she remembered everything, which was a much worse moment to face in the morning.

Tess didn’t know how she got himself into these situations, sometimes.

# # #

Jenny slipped through the miles-long mall in Ceasars Palace. Eight stores out of ten were out of any sane persons budget, but it was nice to look at, to sample, to walk away with at least one luxurious item to fold at home among the rest, to know to treat that fabric just a little better, to wash it separately, with the delicates or even by itself. It’s always an extra half hour on laundry day to deal with the few pieces of expensive clothing. It’s an investment in time, not just money. But less and less did Jenny consider time to be much of a currency. She had it in oodles.

Even the stores that would be in any other mall, the fcuk, the Calvin Klein jeans, the browns and fossil, these stores held items most other malls couldn’t afford to stock. The $800 skirts, the $1000 watches were unique to the Caesars mall on this side of the country, let alone the clothing that actually had no price, where the accepted etiquette is to simply not ask before handing over the black plastic.

Jenny was wearing her flat shoes and a flowing, long skirt. Since leaving work, she hadn’t worn any of her professional clothes. She hadn’t charged her blackberry in three days. Her email was going unanswered in longer and longer stretches. She was doing what she considered her version of bumming around, and that included her flats, cute glossy black ballet-style shoes that had collected dust during the upswing in the campaign.

Jenny hazily shopped, viewing item after item, store after store. She picked up a reasonably priced pair of jeans. She almost bought a new pair if sunglasses. She enjoyed, more than anything else, the industrial sized air conditioning, pushing new faux air in her lungs. None of it was real, but none of it mattered.

Jenny browsed through a music store and noticed that they’d begun to sell video games and movies. The number of CDs on racks was dwindling. She leafed through a few of them. Jenny stopped at a Joel Plaskett album, a guy that Bret had raved about seeing live with only 30 other people in Vancouver two years before. As she felt the hard plastic, she felt fir only the third time in her life a consumer sentiment: this product made her miss Bret and his winded ranting of indie pop music. She winced at it, though it might have just been a chill. It was freezing in this mall.

She told Bret to take everything they had. It had worked with the two other boyfriends she’d had. It was simply better in the long run to purge it all. It helped to have no reminders, even if it meant losing something. After a few weeks, she’d be okay. She could touch things they’d shared again, and she could work on creating new memories of the things she wanted to like again. She would watch the same movies she liked in the relationship with her sister, and that movie would become a memory for the two of them. She did the same for music, for television, for pictures.

Jenny decided she would begin this process with Plaskett, because she really liked him and wanted him for herself. She didn’t want Bret to take this one away.

Jenny slipped aimlessly through the mall at Ceasar’s Palace, fulfilling the oft-lame stereotype of shopping whilst an emotionally distant zombie. She hated herself for it. She was just looking at things with no real impetus to buy. First, she had no money with which to buy anything, and for second had nobody to wear anything for. She was out of a job for the first time in her life. Shopping made Jenny lonely, which made her feel somewhat insane. The simple fact of looking at items of clothing made her pregnant with a longing for a month ago, to when she had a boyfriend who hadn’t betrayed her and a still-closeted boss. She found herself missing Bret of all people. She should miss Reggie, but she didn’t. He had never lied to her. He had never been someone he wasn’t.

She knew what had been going on behind shut motel doors in the middle of town. Of course she wished she hadn’t known anything. She knew republicans like Reggie had nothing against gays and were pretty often gay themselves, but kept their images up for the paranoid racist vote. She was fully aware of everything that was planned for the state. Reggie’s entire campaign was going to come true. He had the budget balanced. He was going to pledge money to schools and community centers. He was going to pass several gambling awareness initiatives, which would have aided the cities’ effort in eliminating even more of its sordid past. Most importantly, he was going to rid the city of its underground homeless, the people who lived off the cities’ excess in the canals. It was going to be a bold and brave two years in the seat, but. Nobody came to Vegas to gamble anymore. They came because it was the new Disneyland. He needed to get these initiatives passed. But it would probably never happen now, because Reggie’s entire political legacy would be completely forgotten in favor of one story and one photograph.

Jenny found a Sony store simply because it was there. She perused the mp3 players. She glanced at the digital cameras and remarked on how quickly hers had been made obsolete. She had only bought one last year, and already the new ones got it done twice as well. She wondered what a megapixel was, and decided she didn’t care. She saw the TVs, and saw that four of them were on CNN. One TV had closed captioning, and she saw Reggie’ s name scroll past. And then she saw him, tapping a microphone, smiling, and giving everyone that signature motherfucker eye that she’d taught him on the campaign.

# # #

Fane flicked at his 3x5s, peering at the typed font, instinctively worrying about his pacing, where he’ll take a breath, a beat. He printed the cards out at home the night before. Fane sat twenty feet away from the podium backstage, behind the curtain. The crowd was buzzing. It wasn’t like a rock concert crowd. He’d anticipated a much smaller group of journalists, bloggers, and the people who just like to be present at presentations like this, just in case anything historic happens.

But he could definitely hear them, and if he didn’t know any better he would have to think that as the time for him to speak the crowd bristled and grew monstrously loud. Maybe it was in his head, his ego creating a scene that wasn’t there. The cards in his hands told a much different story than his older cards.

Sir,” a voice said from behind Fane. Are you ready?”

I thought I had another twenty minutes.”

CNN says they’ll have to cut you off if you go over 15 minutes if we wait until the hour. We’re trying to give you some extra time for questions.”

Christ, what the hell for?” Fane asked.

There’s a press conference in Iraq at noon, sir. They have to be live for that one.”

Fuck,” Fane spit. All right. You think there’ll be lots of questions?

I don’t know sir,” the stage manager said. But if you’re planning on saying what Yukes said you’re going to say, then yeah, you might want to take a few questions.”

All right. I’ll be right there,” Fane said.

The stage manager gave a nervous high five. Break a leg sir.”

# # #

Bret sat and thought about the night before, musing the sad notion of ex girlfriend rejection. It was a near-guaranteed transaction, he felt, like taxes. Ex girlfriends were usually pretty susceptible to moments of emotional vulnerability, and Bret often had the good timing to cash in. They were money in the bank. Or were they? Had he always just been lucky? Was Bret just the one unlucky asshole male who couldn’t make it work? Or was it just what Tess said? Was he so broken that everyone could tell, and everyone had given him plenty of distance. Still, he felt embarrassed being turned away from bumping familiar uglies. Whatever the case, Bret had struck out something large, and he felt one of the many emotional bottoms.

At the end of the day, his bedpost mark had been solid. Working a job he couldn’t actually talk about was eerily seductive to the residents of pothead café’s, which was something he didn’t understand but took full advantage of. He chalked it up to the basic attraction of opposites. He wore a suit and couldn’t disclose anything professional, which made it look like he worked for some shadow government organization, some real x-files type, which made him square and the enemy. And there were few things in life more attractive than sleeping with the enemy.

And here in Vegas, well. Being a man with a bevy of cameras and access to one of the most popular celebrity websites around had its apparent advantages. Bret recalled Trice and her protection of her sisters’ pride, and had on many occasions recalled how rare that was. More often than not, he had trouble keeping the attention grabbers out of the shots. He had a drawer at home full of business cards for models and actresses. He had just as many napkins with numbers with no names. Famous by association was high currency in this city. Bret remembered walking by so many well-paid working actors in Vancouver and simply not giving two shits. He rarely saw any display of external affection or devotion from random fans, either. But in Vegas, it was as if celebrities held cures for the plague. How big a difference tax laws made.

But Bret couldn’t have taken advantage of any offers. He was with Tess, and then he was with Jenny, and the whole time he’d been on Album’s orders anyway. What could he have done?

Bret felt sorry for himself, and he felt sorry for feeling sorry for himself, and when that feeling got ridiculous he turned on the television and saw the bright white mug of a man he’d ruined.

# # #

Reggie tapped on the microphone. He’d never actually done that before, but had always wanted to. Like a kid with an unopened Christmas present he didn’t quite understand the shape of. And he felt like a kid, at least twenty years younger. He felt butterflies that come with doing young, foolish things for the first time. He remembered his first kiss, and then the first kiss he actually wanted.

Reggie had given more speeches than he could count, but only three had been about his personal life. The first was over a month ago. It was a typical denial on CNN. The second, a week after, was his confession and resignation speech. It hadn’t been written by him; someone had handed it to him late one evening at his office in a sealed manila envelope. This third speech might be the last time cameras would come around. He knew how reporters worked. This was the last bit of everything he could possible deliver. He owed it to himself more than anything. He’d already apologized to the public, and to his wife, and to his team, even if nobody believed him. But he needed to come clean for himself, and to officially damn the consequences. That’s what Album had told him the night before last. Damn the consequences. The truth was more important than any aftermath. The truth created a new aftermath.

The cameras were fewer in number than last time. The rule of diminishing returns out in full force. Reggie didn’t see Bret anywhere. Was he even press, technically? He didn’t know. Where did bloggers figure into the system? Reggie sort of wanted him present, to bear witness to what he’d wrought. He wanted to illuminate one that he wasn’t the one-note hypocrite Bret knew him for. But Reggie remembered that Album had told him to forget Bret. He wasn’t as important as Reggie made him out to be.

Reggie heard his aid to the right say whenever you’re ready, we’re ready.” He cleared his throat and began.

Good morning everyone. Thank you for coming on such short notice. I’m sure you’re all very busy with news more important than mine, so I’ll keep this brief. As I stand before you, I feel more vulnerable than I’ve felt in my entire life. I’ve been truly humbled these last few weeks. I’ve received emails and letters from hundreds, maybe thousands of great Americans and residents of this great state, both in support and in disgust. I’ve read them all. I’ve had a lot of time. They’ve given me great courage, and I want to return the favor. I want to come out today, as myself, for the first time.

You’re probably all wondering what else there is to say. I mean, I was caught. I apologized. I quit. What else is there? I gave you my humiliation, and I had my wife stand by me as I told you how sorry I was for betraying yours and her trust. But I feel like the speech I gave was less about me and more about looking good for the party. I didn’t write it. Did you know that? I used to write all my speeches. I was good at it. And here I was, reading words designated to me. You deserved better from me. The blatant lack of discipline was untoward and disrespectful to my wife and to the great people of this state I swore to represent. The fact is: I should not have been fucking around on my wife. More to the point, I shouldn’t have had a wife in the first place. To jump straight to why I’m here: I am a gay man, and I’ve been living a lie. I am stating this in public, into a microphone, into cameras, because I want it to be a fucking statement.”

Reggie couldn’t have known, but CNN just green-lit fifteen more minutes to the segment.

Reggie kept going. The silent crowd fueled him.

I felt betrayed by myself. I lived this lie to forward my political career. I was coached very early about keeping it hidden if I didn’t want to get shot. You have to understand, at least a little, about the time. I’ve been in politics since the seventies. When I first ran, I would have been killed. Certainly. I was afraid of being found out, so I got married. That was part of the deal. And don’t read this as saying I don’t care about my wife. She is the love of my life. I respect her dearly, and she deserves far better than me. I can’t lie to her anymore. I can’t put her through this any longer.

I regret so much. Supporting policies that infringed on the rights of minorities. Stating for the record that homosexuality was a sin. Buying into the belief system of extremists. I hated myself, but I knew I had to keep my career. I know part of this will seem hollow. Oh, he’s only doing this because he got caught, because he lost everything. And you know what? It’s probably true. I would have just kept going on. But the fact is, we’re all going to get caught sooner or later. These bloggers and journalists are getting better everyday. We can’t keep these secrets anymore. It’s a new time. The new normal is that if you’re a closeted man in the public sector, you will be found out. These guys are just too good. They don’t know the same boundaries the old journalists did. They don’t respect your privacy, or your place in society. And you know what? That might be a good thing.”

Reggie knew he was backhandedly complimenting the men who took him down, but that was sort of the point. He considered it the gentleman thing to do.

These guys are getting really good at their jobs, so maybe it’s time we got really, really good at ours. We were supposed to be public servants, and I see no reason to hide who we are. Besides, it’s 2006. It’s the future, for God’s sake. It’s ridiculous for us to still be wrestling with these trivial pieces of bullshit anthropology. But it’s easy for me to say because I’ve been caught, right. Well, it’s easy to forget what I’ve lost. But I stand before you all a thousand percent more confident as to my own identity than I have my whole life. And that might not sound like any kind of trade, but I gotta say, it’s something. It’s more. Thank you. And hey, who knows. Maybe this can start something. A dialogue, something along those lines. Because it’s about all of us.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 6

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Used to be, people like Bret had to mull over hundreds of printed shots in a darkroom. He would have to develop every shot by hand. He would have to stand alone, bathed in red, breathing fumes. He would spend hours and nights, slowly going blind, slowly going insane. Paparazzo work in the old days took time and isolation and the creep stench that never comes off, no matter how many new jackets you bought.

Going digital changed all that. Bret drank a latte in public. His laptop sat open in fullscreen mode. Bret made red-eye changes. Focus changes. He cropped. Converted. Raw to Jpeg. Compressed. Three feet away, a mother fed a plastic-wrapped shortbread cookie to a toddler. On the monitor, John Mayer smiled. Zoomed to 300 percent, you could see the freckles in the loupe.

The freckles would, of course, have to go. Nobody knows that John Mayer has freckles. But the fact is, Bret was doing this dark work out in the open. Much like the suburbs that surround the city, Bret’s work was cleaner than his predecessors. Cleaner, safer, and more productive. White-washed. Bleached. From four-color to full. From newspaper to blog. From dingy motels to custom-built houses. From dank, chemical-filled dark rooms to a cafe with free wifi. Everything moved forward, upward, into an abyss not seen until the next Hollywood interpretation of tomorrow. You don’t know America’s definition of progress until you’ve been to Vegas this century.

John Mayer was a nice guy, Bret could testify to that. Bret had him in the airport. He was hidden in rows of elderly people all waiting for planes back to Florida. He had brought the good camera, the one with the thick lens. For a major airport, the security was incredibly lax on photographers. All the tourists. All the things to take pictures of. That image of rows of people already on slot machines. The idea that seven seconds after landing in the state, you could be gambling. The odd promo girl dressed as a showgirl, handing out discount price-fix ticket/dinner combinations. The slumped brides. The dead-eyed businessmen, hoping to tune all the neon and jingle out of a forced week-long retreat. These things make great pictures.

But Mayer caught Bret early. He’d only got a few shots in before Mayer noticed that Bret wasn’t actually shooting footage of some toddler trying to pull a slot arm.

In the coffee shop, Bret applied contrast to the image. He tried to take away that dark light the airport gave off. People only really wanted pictures of Mayer that could be cropped next to Jennifer Aniston, and people only photographed her in the light.

Wait,” Bret thought. Who am I fucking kidding?”

He forgot about the background, knowing Album would either crop it out or write over it in Paint. He fixed the red-eye. He took out the shadow under Mayer’s chin. He rendered, and moved onto the next shot.

Mayer had come closer to Bret. He knew he should have run but he didn’t. Maybe he’d be able to get away with the tourist excuse, that he saw a random celebrity on vacation and thought a picture would be fun to show the family.

Don’t give me that tourist excuse,” Mayer said, getting close enough to talk. His voice was disarmingly smooth. It bothered Bret. He knew he should run at this point.

Mayer said, I know who you are.”

Mayer got closer. Bret should have bolted. Whenever a celebrity gets too close, there’s a way higher chance of broken equipment or a broken nose. Bret smiled, and played the odds. Bret knew about Mayer, and his reputation with his kind. Mayer wasn’t going to do anything but be really fucking nice.

Mayer said, I can pick you guys out a mile away.”

Bret was caught and beat, but instead of the usual grimace, the usual intention of physical confrontation, Mayer was relaxed. He said, Buy me a coffee and I’ll give you a shot you can actually sell.”

Bret sipped his latte. He cropped the bright background, the useless collateral distractions. Behind Mayer was an arguing family. Behind Mayer were the kind of people Bret’s accidentally embarrassed and ruined. People like Trice’s sister. People like God knows who else.

Bret bought John Mayer a wet cappuccino, then took a picture of him holding it, giving a thumbs up. That ought to give you at least a tenth-page.” Bret gave Mayer a confused look. He still didn’t say much. It wasn’t the shock of being near a celebrity. It was the terrifying notion that one of them didn’t want to maul him.

Mayer shook his hand. Have a good one.” He trundled off. Bret didn’t follow, didn’t say anything.

Bret stood in the airport wearing the same face he wore in the coffee shop, cropping and brightening and red-eye eliminating. Bret had been bowled over by a crooner, and he had no idea how to react.

It was a similar look that he had given to Tess the previous July. Originally, the plan had been to stay-cation Vegas for maybe a month, but they were encroaching on the end of their third. In Tess’ apartment, which used to be their apartment, Bret stood in the living room. There were fewer useless giveaway leftovers. She had begun collecting them after Bret moved out, to fill the spots where his things once were.

When are we getting out of here?” Bret asked.

Tess, balled-up on the couch in a tiny skirt and black tank top, retracted. I’m not the one who wanted to come down here. You did. You thought it’d be good for us. We never see one another, Bret. We don’t see one another and you’re really not happy.”

Yeah, exactly,” he said. So when do we get out of here?”

You’re not happy,” she said. But I am.”

Bret pulled his hands through his hair. He breathed deep, he locked on. This argument had been brewing ever since she’d told him they were staying a little longer.

So what am I supposed to do?” Bret asked, never bothering to stop asking exactly what about this horrendous environment was keeping his girlfriend satiated.

Tess got up and tried to hold him, but he wasn’t having any of it.

I’m serious, Tess,” He said. I’m sick of this place. I’m sick of Album and his fucking website and the damn work.”

Tess removed any play from her voice. I came here for you. Do you understand that? I left everything in my life to follow you. I got a job doing something I thought was demeaning, something that’ll never go on a resume, and I did it so I could afford to be here with you.”

I never asked you to become a promo girl,” he said.

What was I supposed to do? Leech off you like some trophy girlfriend? Fuck that. You know that’s not who I am. But my point was, I sacrificed my home for you. Don’t walk out on this just because you’re having a rough time.”

So what should I do, Tess?” He asked. Please, help me out on this.”

You asked me to come down here, so I did,” she began. I’m asking you to stay. I don’t know for how much longer, but to stay. Be with me. Do whatever you can. Find something that makes dealing with everything else easy.”

Bret had failed miserably at this.

Bret looked down at the thumbnails of John Mayer’s shining nice-guy mug. Bret sipped the last of the latte. He closed his computer. He’d emailed the files to Album. They’d be on the site in a few minutes, this time with a cute story about Coffee. Irony of ironies, Bret had found someone that kept him in Vegas. A few days after their big argument, Bret ran into Jenny at a bar. He was staking out a location for later that night, when he noticed her drinking alone. Tess had been right. It only took one person to make it easy.

# # #

Trice and Tess were eating yogurt on Tess’ balcony.

You think we eat this stuff because TV tells us to?” Tess asked.

What do you mean?”

Tess, scooping out peach and strawberry pieces from the goop, said There’s, like, a thousand commercials with women eating yogurt. It’s all women on TV eat.”

Some of them eat penis,” Trice said.

I think you and I have different cable packages.”

It was midday. They both had a job to do that night, and neither thought anything about either. Fingers at ease, Tess and Trice daydreamed in open conversation, drinking corner store beer, breathing cheap Nevada air.

You would not believe the rent I had to pay for a place half this size where I’m from.” Tess said. She extolled the horrors of British Columbia rent prices.

I don’t get why you can’t come work with me in LA,” Trice said.

It has to do with that thing I was telling you before,” Tess said. Remember when I told you I was from Vancouver?”

Yeah, so?”

Well, it means I don’t actually belong in this country.”

I don’t get what you mean. There’s tons of Canadians down here.”

Yes, but most of them have work VISAs or their kids were born here or something. According to border patrol, I’m on vacation. I’ve been here way longer than I should have been.”

But we work together. You work for the promo company,” Trice said.

Yeah, but they don’t care where you’re from. Hell, you know Katrina? She’s from Russia. Doesn’t speak any English. They let her work. It’s because they pay in cash, Trice. It’s one of the reasons I took the job.”

It’s no problem,” Trice said. We can pay you in cash, too.”

We?” Tess asked.

My sister and I.”

Ooh,” Tess said. That’s why LA.”

Exactly,” Trice said. She’s really serious about this business, and I’m going to do everything I can to help her. Especially after what happened.”

Because you feel responsible for what happened?”

Responsible? Why would I feel responsible?”

Well,” Tess said. You did get her the gig. You were there too.”

But I didn’t take the picture,” Trice replied. And I didn’t put it online for our parents to find. It’s not my fault at all what happened. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love her and want her to be happy, and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”

Tess thought about how Trice felt absolutely no guilt over her sister, how she was wrong but believed her own story so much she couldn’t see it any other way.

Trice and Tess made their way back into Tess’ kitchen. Do you want a top up?” Tess asked.

Do you have anything besides Ceasar’s? I have to say, I don’t at all understand this crazy drink you people have.”

Tess laughed. I have some orange juice. I’ll use it instead.”

What did you say was in there? Clam juice?”

Clammato,” Tess said. It’s a combination of Clam and Tommato juice.”

It’s disgusting, is what it is,” Trice said.

Maybe you have to be a Canuck to get it,” Tess said, handing Trice the vodka-orange.

Look, it’ll be great,” Trice said, getting back on track. You’ll see. Please come?” Trice elongated the please as far as she could.

Tess paused. That’s not entirely it,” she said.

Trice took no time to clue in. It’s him, isn’t it?” Tess stood still. You’re still in love with that scumbag paparazzi, aren’t you?”

He’s not a scumbag paparazzi,” Tess said, then retracted. Okay, well, he didn’t use to be a scumbag paparazzi. He used to be my…”

Your what?”

It’s stupid,” Tess said. Forget it.”

Tell me, bitch,” Trice said. So I can talk you out of it.”

Tess remembered back to the first time she had said it to him. It was so long ago she had forgotten the details, but had remembered the little things.

Tess said, He was my happily ever over.”

Trice stood in disbelief, as if Tess had spoken a long-dead romance language only understood by long-dead scholars. You want to run that bullshit by me again?”

Tess leaned against the counter, sipping the drink of her homeland. Romance, love, that whole chase, you know? It’s exciting. I had a hell of a run. I didn’t have a ton of boyfriends but dammit they were good ones. Even the shitty ones were good in their own ways. Barry, the hockey player with mommy issues? He was better at driving around aimlessly than anyone, and sometimes that’s really nice. Jerome, the law student who once slapped me for flirting? That asshole could massage like nobody’s business. Jake? Jake was the kind of guy who needed MTV-level drama on a weekly basis or he thought his life was meaningless. But that son of a bitch romanced the shit out of me, and there are still some nights I fantasize about that around the world cruise he wanted to take me on.

Bret isn’t the best at a whole lot,” Tess said, calming down. He makes his mistakes, and he creates situations that only ruin the parts of him I loved. Like, this paparazzi shit he got himself into? I hate that part of him. The worst part is that he hates it, too. He owns his own self-sabotage, but he’s never been strong enough to stop it. The problem is, there was a long time there where I thought I was done with chasing love and being part of that entire spectacle and chaos. I thought I was finished. Bret wasn’t my happily ever after, but he was more than enough to call it a day.”

Trice sipped her Vodka Orange and nodded. I know that. It goes by different names but I’ve seen it. This guy really had it, huh?”

Yeah,” Tess said.

You think there’s still any of that in him?”

That all depends,” Tess said, finishing off her Ceasar. It all depends on how he leaves.”

# # #

Jenny lay down on her bed and remembered the last time she and Bret made love. They’d fallen asleep together. It had been nice, and the memory cast a kind light on Bret. She could never look back in anger on the way they had made love. She nuzzled against the pillow, pressed in, pushing only slightly, the way a cat sneaks into your awaiting, scratch-wanting fingernails. She was still wearing her work clothes, even though she didn’t go to work anymore. Her beige skirt was worn-in, maybe a year too old to still be considered on the best selection in a wardrobe. There were a few too many creases, and there was a stitch coming loose on the bottom. Her feet bare, her legs a little cold, Jenny curled inward, squinting, holding nothing tight but herself.

The phone rang, and she wished it was someone with news. She hated knowing nothing about the next day. Her schedule was empty, and her stomach had a pang. It rang a second time, and almost gave into the machine. Her cold hand grabbed and flipped open her cell, and she held it to her ear.

It’s your sister, spinster.”

Jenny felt urges to loudly cough.

You haven’t called in like a week.”

It’s been kind of a bad week,” Jenny said, compulsions to bitch further be damned.

Please tell me you’re not thinking about Tony.”

I’m sorry?” Jenny didn’t know what she was talking about. The phone felt like wet plastic in her hand, slippery and unnatural and better off untouched.

You know. You can’t help it. Thinking about Tony. Wondering where he is, what he’s doing, what he’s thinking about, is he thinking about you, and if he’ll ever return.”

Confused and tired, Jenny just said What?”

You know, the sad French girls from Kids in the Hall?”

Is that a thing? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

You don’t watch enough Canadian television. You’d think with that ex boyfriend of yours he would have forced you into some of it.”

Ugh, don’t remind me. He made me watch that stupid gas station show from Saskatchewan. He had them downloaded on his computer.”

Yeah, I love that one.”

I seriously do not get your fascination with Canadian television. But, whatever. Why don’t you date him?”

Because he’s yours,” she said. Bret belongs to you.”

Yeah, well, look Haley,” Jenny said, sitting up, tensing her jaw and cracking her neck to the right. He’s not anybody’s but his own now. I’ve made up my mind about the whole thing.”

Haley sighed loud enough for Jenny to get the message. You can’t be angry at him forever. He only did what just about anyone else in the world would do. It’s what I would have done.”

Haley, don’t be ridiculous.”

I don’t like the methods, either,” she said. But you can’t argue with the intent. He was revealing the truth. Isn’t that what we all want out of life?”

Truth?”

Justice,” Haley said.

I lost my job, sis,” Jenny stated. I lost it because of him, because of his particular brand of this justice you’re talking about. Reggie wasn’t a bad guy, Haley. He was a politician. He had to keep certain things secret.”

I don’t get why he had to keep being gay secret,” Haley said. I don’t get people who marry people they don’t love. Hell, have kids with people they don’t love. What’s the big deal? Just be a gay politician.”

Yeah, it’s really not as simple as all that.”

But don’t you at least wish it was?”

What?”

Don’t you wish it was as easy as just saying it, and having that be okay, having a guy get elected just as easily as if he was straight?”

Yeah, I guess so. But that’s not really the point, was it?”

Isn’t it, though? I mean, if your boss was openly gay the whole time, then he wouldn’t have been having this affair, and Bret wouldn’t have taken any pictures, and you wouldn’t be out of a job, and you two would still be together.”

Jenny wiped her eyes and looked at shadows out the window. The slow creep of building reflections on other buildings, reflections of house windows on other houses. In Jenny’s mind swirled fantasies.

If he were openly gay,” Jenny said. He’d never have got elected in the first place.”

Well,” Haley said. That’s the saddest hand dealt, not Bret’s.”

Jenny exhaled. Okay. I give up. He’s the greatest guy ever and I love him twice over and everything will be all right now. Thanks so much Sis.”

Bret was just doing what he thought was right.”

Yes, well.”

Really, sis, put yourself in that position. And I’m serious. What would you have done?”

Haley.” Jenny stamped the name.

I mean, did you know Reggie was gay before the news hit?”

Jenny let a beat go. Yes, of course I knew.”

But you didn’t feel the public deserved to know.”

It’s none of the public’s business. Haley, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

All I’m saying…”

Haley, I know exactly what you’re saying. You said the same thing to me last week.”

Whatevs,” she said.

Don’t say whatevs,” Jenny replied. It’s really unbecoming.”

You oughta talk about unbecoming.”

I’m so glad I don’t live with you anymore,” Jenny had enough of this, of her sisters’ berating to take Bret back.

Look, just promise me you won’t completely close the book. Bret was the best thing that happened to you in a long time. He made you so happy.”

The windows rattled every evening in Jenny’s apartment. Old and loose, the window panes were seemingly held together by oil and string. They shook with the desert gush, and they, and not the thoughts of Bret and their multitude of mistakes that were keeping her from sleeping all week.

Jenny said, I need a few small miracles to happen first.”

# # #

Album Typed.

# # #

Foot on the pedal and wind from above, Bret drove around, circling nothing, hunting nothing. He had a night off. Album hadn’t called him, hadn’t procured his particular talents for the night. There was nobody to steal from, nobody to lie to. Album did this from time to time. He would forget he had Bret in his pocket. He would forget he ran an incredibly popular dish rag site. Album, from time to time, would forget that he was Album and would answer his phone with his real name. On nights like this, Bret took a meager satisfaction in the easiness of his life. He would try his hardest to shelve the drama between him and Jenny, his past life with Tess, and all the lowlife decisions he made. He would stare forward, eyes seeing road seeing cars seeing other people who drove. This American past time of just driving for the sake of fucking driving was something Bret could take home.

His cell rang. It wasn’t Album, but it was about Album.

Tess talked like a Gatling gun on the phone to the annoyance of everyone who knew her. The times she talked about something that genuinely excited her were so excruciatingly difficult to understand it had been the culprit for several severed friendships. Bret had long taken the practice of holding his phone several inches away from his ear, just in case it was her on the other end. You are not going to oh my fucking god believe this Bret. Come the fuck over right now. Your buddy has been up to some major shit.”

She didn’t try to come off as a brainless valley girl, but phones being what they are had that affect on the poor girl. Bret moved the phone closer to his mouth while keeping the audio end at a safe distance. He looked like a fool.

I’m in the area,” he said. I’ll be right over.”

Bret was enjoying his drive. He had no direction, just forward momentum for the sake of forward momentum. He got a little high off the wind, a little sleepy, but not dangerously. Just sleepy enough to calm the voice in his head that his life had as much direction as his ride, that he’d done so much more bad in the world than good, that he’d be doing everyone a favor if he moved to a struggling country to build houses for the disparaged and never come home again.

The voice had been around more as of late. He heard it ping around the back of his head, and was bothered by his ability to place it.

The voice, in not so many ways, said go.

The son of a bitch of the thing was Bret really didn’t want anything to happen to him, and yet he was compelled to let himself get sucker punched every time. It was never a strong suit of his to stay Swiss about something; to say no. The voice was persuasive, as was his surroundings. The neon, specifically, called from around corners. The annoying, wasteful tubes gave Bret headaches, which is why he avoided the strip as much as possible. Which, when he thought about it, pronounced him a resident of the city more than anything else.

Bret parked and entered Tess’ apartment, immediately noticing the new bags of useless crap and trinkets left from the end of nights. One small bag full of lip gloss; another full of disposable razors, another with four copies of a CD by The Kills. One had been opened, left open, emptied. It surprised Bret to see something she’d taken home actually get used. Most of the leftovers were just strewn around like some art project waiting for an audience that got it.

He climbed the stairs and was greeted by sleepy, excited eyes.

I’ve seen that look on you,” Bret said.

What look?” Tess asked.

The one where you could fall asleep at any moment, but you’re still more alert than anyone else.”

Tess smiled. It was a professional hazard, one she took, as with most of her flaws, as a badge of success.

So I can’t believe he hasn’t told you himself,” Tess said.

Tell me what?” Bret sat down on the couch. Tess pulled her laptop off the cluttered desk and sat down next to him.

Bret saw the page, the familiar banner ads and background colors. Albums’ site was nothing special in terms of looks. But people loved it.

Tess scrolled. Bret saw the photo of the governor. It was Bret’s photo.

Did something new happen? I don’t understand.” Bret asked.

Read the article, honey.”

So Bret read the article about the governor he singlehandedly brought down. Apparently, Fane had visited Album in his home. Apparently he’d asked for advice, now that his life was in tatters. Apparently he was friendly, and humbled.

I don’t believe any of this,” Bret muttered, but kept reading.

Fane was disappointed in how he acted after being caught. He was having trouble sleeping. He felt his apology to the state three days after the photo went viral was ham-fisted. Apparently, the speech had been prepared by a cabinet member. It read eerily similar to the one used by the governor of Minnesota from three years ago. His wife stood next to him on the podium, too. Her head was down, too.

Apology theater, Fane called it.

At the end of the article, Album explained that Fane was going to organize a press conference tomorrow. That it was going to be by himself. No telepromptors. No party support.

I don’t believe it,” Bret said again.

I didn’t see it either. But, you know, your friend gets read by lots of people.”

Tess moved the page over to CNN. It showed the picture, with all the limbs, the flash bulb red-eyes, the looks of shame and the beginnings of rage. All those limbs, Bret thought. Fuck, all those limbs. The story under the photo confirmed what Album said on the blog.

Tess switched it over to FOX. To the Huffington Post. Yahoo and Google and the AP all said the same thing.

Well,” Bret said, unable to really piece together an opinion.

I know, right? Isn’t it fucked up that he’d go and find Album?”

That’s for sure.” Bret chewed nothing.

After a moment of staring at the end of the article, Tess asked, Bret? What are you thinking?”

Hmm?”

I can tell you’re worried, or confused, or something. But this is big, right?”

Yeah, I guess it’s pretty big.”

Bret, come on.”

Bret looked at Tess in the same tired, excited way. He learned it from her. Honestly, who knows what this means. It could be some new political ploy. Maybe a desperate attempt to get his job back? I don’t know. I’m not into this stuff.”

Whatever, Bret. The only reason this is happening is because of you. You broke this whole shit wide the fuck open.”

I think I need to lie down,” Bret said, getting up, moving to the bedroom. Tess followed after him. He crumpled down on her bed, the only clean surface in the house. Tess lay down beside him. He looked up at her constellation-looking crackle ceiling, the egg-white getting stained with age and light. Tess looked at Bret looking up.

I ruined the man’s life, Tess,” Bret said. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve to be caught, and that his stupid hammed-up apology didn’t reek of political garbage. But he’s a man, and I ran that man’s face through the mud.”

Tess grabbed hold of his hand. She squeezed.

The worst part is,” he said. This is what I do. I help ruin people for a living.”

I’m not sure it’s really that different from what you were doing before,” Tess said.

Bret turned over, looked Tess in the eyes. What the hell am I doing with my life?”

I don’t know, sweetie. I guess I threw you for a loop, huh?”

Don’t blame yourself. It was my fault we didn’t work out.”

No,” Tess said. I started it. You wanted to leave. You wanted to get out of this city before it ate you up. Before it did to you what it’s obviously done to you.”

Tess said, I’m so, so sorry.”

Bret said seven things in his head but all he did with his mouth was kiss her.

He stopped. She kissed him. They met halfway the third time. They stopped talking altogether. Bret’s hand went through Tess’ hair. Tess’ hand pressed against Bret’s chest, her other hand reaching down.

He opened his eyes once, and just for a split second, just to make sure this was really happening.

Belts loosened by force. Shirts pulled over heads. Bret lost track of a little time.

Tess laid next to Bret after she’d come. Do you want me to finish you?” She asked.

In a minute,” Bret said. Breath catching and all.”

Both wanted the air to be colder outside, for northwestern ocean winds to shatter the desert and create a Record Year for Rainfall. Tess and Bret felt home, and then they felt less.

Okay,” Bret said. They went to work on the issue at hand.

She kissed him. At last, they’d touched again. It had been too long a year. The senses had dulled too much. And yet.

You need to get out of here,” Tess said.

What?”

I’m serious,” she said. This isn’t a good idea. I came to my senses.”

You came to your senses quick,” Bret said.

Look, I love you, but this isn’t going to work.” Tess held her hair back, and cracked her neck.

Do I even need to ask why?” Bret said, sitting up.

Because you don’t know what you want, or who you are. You’ve been damaged, and some of that is my fault, but you need to fix yourself a little before we can even have this conversation.”

But,” Bret began.

Go,” Tess slammed. Just get out of here before I never want to see you again.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 5

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


There are many theoretical things to do in Vegas on a hot, clear afternoon. The first three assumptions are based in the part of one’s brain that never lets go of things it should probably never achieve in the first place–of course there was gambling, cheap sex, and liquor every which way you went. Nothing about the temptations of Vegas were difficult; with enough luck, Bret could play the mid-western fantasy card all week. But these options didn’t appeal to him. It wasn’t that he didn’t revel in the soft-lit fantasy that Vegas promoters spread across the country–that everything stays here, dammit–because he enjoyed Ocean’s 11 as much as anyone else. It was that he had stashed very little precious lucre. So on these kind of days, Bret and Album drove into the desert and turned it into a driving range.

Album had a full set of clubs. He said they were a gift from his father. As Album handed Bret the light, thin titanium driver, he said, My father wanted me to hit things in life. Knock em out. Kick life in the balls. That’s what I got out of it, anyway.”

Bret and Album were out six miles from the city limits, out where the desert could actually produce a quality mirage. There were mountains to the east, but mostly Album and Bret stared at illusionary western horizons. Out here, golf was mostly about hitting rocks into the abyss. Everyone who’d ever done it agreed; though it made the game infinitely more pointless, it was way more fun than paying for it in town.

Album and Bret wore khaki shorts and buttoned up light shirts. They both wore sunglasses. They’d forgotten the sunscreen.

We’re going to burn like crazy,” Bret felt necessary to point out.

Album responded. You’re going to burn like crazy. It’s not my fault your pale Canadian ass can’t handle the sun.”

Album was smoking a cigar. Bret was lighting his up. They were celebrating.

Watch, watch,” Album said. I’ll be the president.”

Album cinched up on his driver and looked back at Bret. We’ll get those terrorists, now watch this drive.” The rock flew a hundred meters and landed on ancestry.

It had been a few days since Bret had been beaten unconscious in a back hallway of the Wynn, and he wasn’t one hundred percent. His jaw still hurt like a son of a bitch, and his sides would be splitting if not for the cornucopia of America-grade painkillers. He took too many, and felt fantastic. It had also been a few days since one of his pictures had incidentally captured Triceen Baldwin making out with a guy.

That fake Christian fuck figured he was safe. Ha!” Album gloated, inhaling the thick Cuban smoke. Six million hits so far. Thousands of pings. Five hundred comments. Page Six wants to advertise with us. I can’t believe you didn’t notice him until we uploaded it.”

Bret picked up a skipping rock from the pile and dropped it to the ground. He said, I was as surprised as you. It’s not like I notice people like Baldwin, generally. He’s not exactly our kind of butter, so I never really keep an eye out. Sides, it was really smoky in there and I was a little distracted at the bar.”

Gina? Was that her name?”

Yeah,” Bret smacked the rock hard. It flew further than Albums’, but nobody was keeping score.

I can’t believe you told her you were a producer from Toronto.”

I know,” Bret said. I’ve never even been to Toronto.”

Album said, I’m not even sure where it is.”

It’s near Detroit,” Bret said. Other side of the lake.”

Lake?”

Bret swung at a smaller pebble. You’ve never even looked at a map east of the Rockies, have you?”

Fuck east of the Rockies.” Album said. Gina sounded hot, you should give me her number.”

I have her card in my apartment,” Bret said. And you should stop spreading the stereotype that American’s can’t even find themselves on a map.”

At least I don’t download Curling championships on Bit Torrent.”

All right, you’ve gone through your Canadian jokes for the week.”

It’s not a joke if you actually did it,” He said, swinging his driver and hitting his stone the farthest so far. Beat that, one, hoser.”

I don’t know if you’d like her,” Bret said. She looked like the kind of girl who would get slurry after a few drinks.”

But you don’t know for sure,” Album said. Besides, not all girls get slurry when they drink. Some of them get bisexual.”

Bret stepped up to a new stone. It looked like it belonged at the bottom of a fast-flowing river, it was so round and smooth. He swung back and his shoulder gave out. He dropped to a knee and let out a fuck,” before grasping it with his other hand. He could feel the muscles rip and bruise. He wasn’t nearly a hundred percent yet.

Maybe it was too early to golf,” he said, coughing.

Album laughed. Take it easy, buddy. You put it all up for the craft. You deserve a few days off.”

The craft,” Bret laughed. Funny. I didn’t realize mercenary celebrity destruction was an art.”

It is when you do it, douche,” Album said. I’ve never seen a pap with your kind of malice.”

Thanks,” Bret said, slowly getting up, rubbing his ribs. I think I’m done for the day. You keep swinging. I’ll stand back and remind you how much the world hates you people.”

Album stood back, rotating his driver in his hand like it was a weapon. He said, What do you mean, you people?”

Bret laughed. It was funny because he couldn’t have picked a more American thing to do with his life, but acting as the conduit between the worshipped and the worshipping left him with few friends on either side.

Album focused on a new pebble near his feet. He toyed with it, kicking it around, looking for the best angle from which to smack it into the sun. He poked at it with the end of the driver. He had no sympathy for the rock. His arms swung back and his full weight went into the follow-through, and wouldn’t you know it, the small little goddamn pebble flew further than any rock either of them had ever swung a stick at.

Can I ask you something that’s been bothering me?” Album asked, assuming no reward was needed for soundly kicking Bret’s ass at their favorite past time. It was very much like Album to win and then immediately change the subject. Bret was used it, so all Bret said as they strode back to Album’s 2006 Lancer was Sure.”

The blog is doing great numbers. That Baldwin shot alone got us front page on Digg and link-backs from TMZ and Huffington. We’re shooting millions.”

Is there a problem hidden in there somewhere I don’t know about?”

Call me old fashioned,” Album said. But I sometimes get the feeling that the shallow celebrity bullshit we peddle is a little impermanent.”

They got in the car. Album turned the key and passed the Zune, attached to the stereo like a baby still attached to its mother, to Bret. As Bret scrolled around to something bearable, he thought This is something I would worry about, not you. What’s the deal?”

Look, I know I don’t care and all that shit, but it would be nice to leave a lasting impression, you know? Something with matter that matters, if that makes sense.”

It doesn’t, and you don’t,” Bret said. Need I remind you it’s people like you who are destroying the newspaper and magazine industry, giving away all this hot gossip and not charging a dime for it?”

I consider it a public service,” Album said, slyly defending the true grit of it.

You consider it a cash grab by your advertisers,” Bret replied. He was right. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with usurping the old guard. There’s absolutely no future in print or publishing, because bastards like us pulled the rug out.”

Look, I know that,” Album said. I just feel like it would be nice to do something real, something that has lasting impact.”

Like what?”

Album replied, Like, what if we printed out the blog. Published it on paper.”

Bret laughed. Let me get this straight. You’re going to spend money to print out articles that you’ve already published on the website. A website that, and I shouldn’t have to remind you, is bookmarked on every cell phone and laptop in the city. There isn’t a curious person in Vegas who doesn’t check us out at least once a day, and you want to go and ruin it by putting the stories on the same antiquated time delay as newspapers?”

When you put it that way,” Album said. It makes you sound like a dick.”

I don’t know, Album,” Bret said. There’s a time and a place for wacky backwards ideas. You’ve got a great thing with the site. Why potentially ruin it with an idea that’s failing all over the world?”

Album thought about it as they drove. They listened to random samples of music. The songs would last 30 or 40 seconds before Bret would get bored and switch them up. He’d skim to good parts. He’d rate the songs as he went, even though they belonged to Album. Not once on the ride home did they listen to a single song all the way through, and not once did either of them notice.

Maybe,” Album said. Maybe it’s not the idea of a newspaper that’s failing. Maybe it’s just the assholes that run them.”

Bret had no great comeback for that one, so he let it slide. The air, dry and full of dead human cells, silently judged them both.

# # #

Tess sat back on her couch in her living room and looked around at all her cheap, useless shit. Just about everything in her apartment was procured by working one promotion or another. She sat there in her free Playboy robe and slippers and drank her free Folgers instant coffee in a free brown Duracell mug. She had showered using sample-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles stolen from a hotel party a few weeks before. Her apartment was filthy with free. She looked around. She tried to smile about it. I love my job,” she said aloud. But nobody, free or purchased, was around to hear it.

Tess had been surprised to no end when she first found the work enjoyable. She recalled the original pangs of degradation and objectivity; they seemed so antiquated in the face of the sheer amount of control she held. Not that the job was never degrading, and not that she didn’t find herself objectified. What had surprised Tess most was when she found semblances of guilty pleasure in those aspects of the job. She found herself owning the degrading aspects in ways she learned back in Vancouver. Sheer feminist drive kept her in charge. She was able to separate the self of choice with the self of charisma; she allowed only pieces of herself to be seen and sullied. When she worked, her smile was wider than when she smiled genuinely. She wore twice as much makeup on the job than off. Often, she used different names. In the past year, Tess had given dozens of fake phone numbers attached to fake names; Josephine, Irene, Lucy. She played it as she saw it, a great game of masks and chance.

As for the objectivity, Tess had found early on a deep-rooted feeling of compliment. She accepted the idea that people found her beautiful for exclusively surface reasons. This was not the most difficult concept to wrap her head around: she, like the models and the actors and the other women who use their body to make a living, felt righteous in utilizing a god-given gift. But the point she held highest was that she didn’t work promo because she had too; it was voluntary. She once told Trice she’d do it for free if the money weren’t so good.

Holding the problems at bay was sometimes too much for Tess. As much as she would successfully and honestly justify her job with the simplest addition of pleasure, the entire argument fell apart on the nights where pleasure felt forced and thoughts of the public consciousness seeped in. These happened rarely, but one was happening now.

Bret had called her the morning after the Wynn party, and she learned the feeling attached to the old cliché of being beside herself.” She literally felt like she, her real self, was sitting a foot to the left of her professional self. She saw the promo girl that kept a snap-knife in the back of her boot, who was never accompanied to her car without friends, and who would have real trouble letting family disownment roll off her back the way Trice was forced to do. As much as she empathized with Bret, and as much as she wanted to help him with his career and help mend their shattered friendship, she could see exactly why Trice refused to simply let past mistakes go. Tess put inches between who she was and what she did. This shielded her, but it also spliced her up the middle, turning her smiling beauty into something more incomplete than she’d like.

And while Tess’ personal self felt sympathy for Bret and his mistakes, the Tess to the right claimed sly responsibility. She, the hound, once a friend of the fox, had become an instinctive predator, unknowingly giving herself an assist in the checkbox. She hadn’t known what would happen to Bret when she invited him. She was only trying to help, as she’d done a few times in the past. She did know security might be dangerous, and that Bret would have had to be at the top of his game in order to pull through. And he wasn’t, which initially confused her. She knew Bret was nowhere near as good as he had been in the past. The loss of Jenny and the breaking political story took tremendous toll on her friend.

The question she had for herself asking though, was Trice’s revenge something Tess wanted to happen?

Trice’s name appeared on Tess’ phone, and she shook off this personal mind for the time being. She picked up.

You need a ride tonight?” Trice asked, without context.

Tess took a second to answer. I think I’m going to call in dead for this one.”

Trice knew what this was about. She had an answer prepared.

Tess, my girl, your ex got what he deserved.”

Tess cradled back on her couch, legs folded. Her elbows hit knees. She bundled herself as best she could with the phone still held tight. She felt cold and distant, as she often did on days when her big crazy life decision felt unreal and more punishment than epiphany.

 On the other side, Trice offered solace. Tessy, girl. I can promise you two things. The first is that if I wasn’t the one who got him, someone else would have. It was only a matter of time before he got his nose in somewhere he didn’t belong, because that’s his job, okay? It’s a paparazzi’s job, babe. They go where they’re not supposed to, and sometimes they lose out. It was bound to happen sooner and later.”

Tess remained quiet and cold. Not much was ever capable of locking her down. The only other times she’d felt this way were in deeply-entrenched arguments with Bret in the later portions of their relationship, when logic and commerce and happiness got in the way of their happily ever after tour.

The second thing, and I definitely promise this will happen,” Trice said. Is that you will find yourself in this position. One of those assholes will either get you or someone you love in a compromising position, and they’ll plaster that shit everywhere to make their buck. You won’t have any say in the matter except what you might do to the son of a bitch after.”

Tess the professional, Tess the coworker, the clock punching, ass-shaking feign-perplexed short blonde bombshell, she knew this was true. She’d smiled at too many cameras to think otherwise.

And the worst part of it,” Trice continued. The worst fucking part of it all is that at the end of the day, they weren’t taking pictures of us. We just happened to be close enough to some ugly, old, decrepit celebrity. Someone who can’t fake it like we can and can’t apply their own makeup without a fucking crew. We’re just collateral damage”

Tess tongued her cheek. I don’t know we’re that innocent Trice.”

Not the point, bitch,” Trice said.

Tess stammered, but then said, I need you to promise me one thing.”

Sure babe, just tell me you’re coming tonight. I need a friend out there.”

Okay, I’ll come,” Tess said. And I can’t argue with you with anything you said. I can’t really say Bret didn’t put himself in harms way. And I can’t blame you for wanting revenge. I think it’s cruel, and it’s black, and it’s a bullshit world we live in, but these things fucking happen.”

I knew you’d see it my way,” Trice said.

Still,” Tess cut her off. I need you to promise me one more thing. You need to promise me that whatever shit that’s left over between Bret and you is done. He hurt you. You hurt him. You hurt him real bad, Trice. I saw the blood. I saw the swelling. The guy is in bad shape. You did your damage. Just please promise me it’s over.”

Tess had exhausted her goodwill. It was one of those nights where she would close her eyes and picture sitting in her old Vancouver apartment, drinking coffee and reading used books.

Trice, on the other hand, always had an invisible body of extra energy following her around wherever she went. She stepped heavy, and looked firm, like she’d take a swing at you as easily as give you a sample pack of sponsored smokes. This kind of energy became the kind of thing a person came to expect, so Tess was understandably surprised when she heard a defeatist whimper of a sigh come through the phone.

Fine,” Trice admitted. But only because you still have feelings for the bastard, and because I need you.”

You need me?”

As a friend,” Trice said. It’s so hard having a good fucking friend in this city. Everyone is constantly throwing one another down the well.”

Tess, relieved, loosened her limbs, took a breath, and thanked her friend. And then defended herself. I don’t still have feelings for him. I’m just glad we’re friends again.”

Bitch don’t even,” Trice thrust back, then hung up.

# # #

Album dominated his game. He’d learned to claw the controller the same way that gaming world champion guy had, with his index finger on the right side buttons, his middle finger on the trigger and his thumb on the right analogue. It was a painful way to play, but he won with it so often it had to be worth it. He never thought whether it was good for him to torture his hands in such painful ways. He just did it, and he’d made that decision a long time ago. Don’t think too hard. Just do. He listened to NIKE. He listened to them in ways they never intended.

The guy, the voice on the other end of the microphone, the voice with no head or anything other than a moving avatar on screen, he asked Album, If it hurts so much, why do it? Aren’t you here to relax?”

No,” Album replied into the tiny headset. It itched a little against his hair, but he ignored it. I’m here because playing big war games makes me stupid, and I need to be stupid for a while sometimes. Head in the sand shit. You know.”

What?”

You heard me. I do it because it makes me temporarily idiotic.”

Sorry,” the voice crackled. I have no idea what that means, what you’re saying just now.”

Look,” Album said. I’m not trying to be insulting. For all I know you’re doing this because it helps you study for the LSATS. But for me, this is about dull, insipid idiocy. This relaxes me because it shuts my brain right off. It takes so few brain cells to play this game and talk to you that I’m almost in a coma.”

I really don’t know how you can’t make that sound insulting.”

Well, it’s not. Maybe it’s insulting if this is the pinnacle of your mental prowess, but I somehow doubt it. You know? It’s not a bad thing to want to be dumb sometimes. I mean, come on. Scientifically, we’re like 3% off from baboons, right? What do baboons do all day? Shit, eat, fuck, and sleep. God, if only that’s all the world expected of us. But we’re expected to get up early, do jobs we hate, watch bad sitcoms with our boring spouses, and then have boring vanilla sex with them so that we can raise boring, selfish babies. If we didn’t have things like video games that turned us into blithering morons for a little while, we’d all go insane. Some of have…hey, look around, faggot. Some of us have sex, porn, fucking local sports teams. You know, go Patriots and that shit. UFC, beer, reality shows, home improvement, whatever.”

The voice on the other end, he wasn’t anyone Album really knew, but Album kept talking anyway.

Sometimes it’s something we love, like a hobby or a family. Sometimes it’s something we hate, like a nemesis, but it always pulverizes the really genius part of our brains and lets us act like the half baked animals we really are. You know, like the soldier who, while explaining some philosophy he just pulled out of his ass as a distraction method, has successfully snuck up behind you and is aiming a rifle at your pretty little teabaggable head.”

Album’s right ring finger painfully pulled the trigger.

See? Wasn’t that awesome? I may be in it for the stupidity, but I’m still going strong. And I’m better for it. Aren’t you? Aren’t we all?”

Album just heard a click, and the player disappeared.

# # #

Bret hoofed it with hot cash in hand, walking in old shoes and looking through red, pained eyes. He still hadn’t been able to sleep proper since the pounding, but he was rich in layman’s terms. Album had given him two grand in hundreds. They were tight-rolled in a pair of rubber bands, tossed into his hands as payment for his troubles. Let it never be said his line of work lacked greenery.

It was a hot, predictably dry day. He’d enjoyed the golf, and was surprised by the luscious the payout. He knew Baldwin’s picture had won big, but two grand was still a hell of a lot of cash for a single picture, no matter what the royalty. He thought about the idea of blood money. Even as a kid, he’d always looked at money as payment for something sacrificed. Money enticed people to spend time in jobs they wouldn’t otherwise take. Money got people to take their clothes off on a stage. Money was used to shut up a person, or to keep them in line. He remembered the Million Dollar Man, a wrestling character from the 80s, the way he’d maniacally laugh and state everyone’s got a price.” The two grand in Bret’s pocket, that was an insurance policy to make sure he wouldn’t think twice about finding another career in this city. But he was thinking. Money couldn’t stop someone from thinking, only doing.

Bret thought more than once about buying a plane ticket back to Vancouver. With two grand, Bret could buy a one-way to Vancouver International and put first and last on a downtown bachelor. Well, maybe first at least. He could take the governors advice and get out while he still had most of his teeth. He could go back to his life, back to what he did before. He thought about returning to the old job with Gas and Terry, doing what they did, not being able to tell anyone. It drove Bret nuts.

The reasons for coming to Vegas in the first place had all evaporated over the year. The city broke his relationship with Tess. The city turned him into a leprous dealer of megapixel skin. The city had torn his ties with home. He blamed himself, he blamed Album, and he blamed Tess for not bailing out when the time had come. None of this would have happened if they had kept to the plan.

Bret saw a camera store. Perhaps a ludicrously expensive impulse purchase might make the swelling go down.

Bells above the door jingled, signaling his arrival. The store was square, with one island row in the middle with new models. He noticed the camera bags, black with over-the-shoulder holsters, leather models with snaps and cushioning. He noticed the display of tripods, extenders, and water-proof cases. As he shopped around, he looked at memory cards of all shapes and sizes. One 8 gig card cost twice as much as another, with no discernible features to set it apart. Bret saw the wifi cards he’d heard of from other paps, the ones that’ll zap photos over the web as they’re taken. He found them disappointing. It was something to not have to connect a camera, but what Bret really wanted–what all paparazzi wanted–was a GPS camera that would upload shots the second they were taken. That way, even if they were assaulted, they wouldn’t lose the shots. But that sort of instant-upload technology still seemed a few years away, though he’d heard the iPhone might be able to do it when it came out, though he also heard it would have sex with you and turn into a magic carpet.

Bret took a look at the photo printers, book binding systems, software. All sorts of boxes promising fantastic photo editing, management, and distribution services. The camera store sold tablets for Photoshop users, affordable for even teenagers. He didn’t want to think it, but he couldn’t help it; when he was a kid, this shit was expensive.

Two computers with a dozen slots for easy input stood on the left wall, close to the register. People could take pictures and print them right there, right from the memory card. Bret half wondered if the guy at the counter actually had to do anything besides make sure nothing got lifted.

Bret looked at the cameras. He owned three cameras already, but all of them had taken their share of beatings over the course of time. His bulky SLR got a nasty system shock back in November when it was ripped from his neck and tossed by an overzealous Wynona Ryder. The delete” button never worked again after that. His handy little point and shoot was scuffed all to hell, and the screen barely registered. As for the little camera he had with him last time, it worked fine. For some ungodly karmic reason, the clunky piece of spy equipment was the only thing that worked properly in Bret’s life.

In the year since Bret had bought a new camera, features had skyrocketed. Where 6 megapixels was cutting edge in 2005, 9 appeared to be the new standard. Where simple pointing and shooting was once good enough for digital cameras, touch screens and face recognition filled the description cards.

The store was lit bright, well-spaced, and half-empty, but Bret, standing close to the back of the new camera section, saw a man come into the store. He had to look twice to recognize him, and he half panicked when he did. The photographer who had ambushed his shot with Rosario Dawson.

Bret ducked, and watched the man browse the memory card shelf. He was tall and lean. He wore a leather jacket and jeans. He didn’t appear to have a camera on him. Bret circled around to the other side of the aisle. He wanted to confront him, but wanted to cut him off from the exit, first. Bret had meant to find this guy on his own time, but getting him in the daylight in a public store seemed unlikely. Then again, he was a camera man; eventually they show up in camera stores.

As the camera man browsed the new models, Bret moved around the store. As he crept, he heard the employee at the till ask the camera man if he needed any help. Bret saw him shake his head. In a few seconds, he would be right behind him.

He didn’t know what he was going to say. Bret hadn’t been given enough time to plan, but he couldn’t just leave. At first, he thought this guy was just another paparazzi, a competitor. But the balcony left no mystery; he was following Bret, trying to psyche him out.

Why?” Bret asked allowed. He stood behind the camera man. The camera man, he stood still, didn’t turn around.

Why?” Bret asked again. You’ve been following me. I want to know why.”

Bret knew the cashier had heard him. It wasn’t that big of a store. If anyone else had been in there, they would have heard, too, and they would have figured Bret was nuts. Bret watched the cashiers’ eyes. The cashier thought Bret was nuts.

The camera man, he said, Are you sure I’m following you? Don’t you think it would have been harder to sneak up on me?”

You were outside the Venetian. You took my shot.”

I took your shot?” The camera man asked, though it wasn’t really a question than an attempt at correction. His voice wasn’t as low as Bret thought it would be. It had flavour, a slight accent, a little bit of coffee. Bret couldn’t place it.

Bret said. You took a shot of me.”

I see,” the camera man said. You want answers.”

That would be nice,” Bret said.

The camera man turned around, faced Bret, looked down on him. He was taller by a solid six inches. Leaner, too, but older by 5, maybe 6 years. The two looked one another in the eyes. Bret looked with confusion, the camera man looked with ease. Bret didn’t take it as anything. The camera man held all the cards.

The camera man asked, What do you want to know, padre?”

The cashier, he popped his head out from behind the till and asked if there was going to be any trouble. Neither man said anything back.

Bret asked, Why are you following me?”

The camera man smiled. On his cheeks, lines appeared. He was older than he looked. He said, I’m following you because you need to be followed.”

Bret didn’t take long to formulate a new question, though he hadn’t begun to digest the last answer. Who’s paying you to follow me?”

Bret,” he said. You should know right away that I’m not allowed to give you that kind of information.”

Is it the governor?”

What governor?” The camera man asked.

Bret assumed Fane had ties with shady organizations. He was his first suspect simply because he was the most powerful person Bret knew. Is that a no?” Bret asked.

Forgive me for being cryptic, but you must understand that some things take time to surface,” he said. But sleep easy.”

And why should I do that?”

Because I’m on your side,” he said.

Wait,” Bret said. You’re following me, but you’re on my side?”

That’s right,” the camera man said. Now get out of here.”

Who are you?” Bret asked.

The camera man tried to side-step Bret, but he wouldn’t let him go. Bret asked again.

Who are you?”

The camera man tried to get around Bret again, but he kept blocking. An exasperated look showed up across his face, so he pretended to go one way but stood his ground. When Bret moved to block him in the aisle, he received a harsh shove. Bret fell back into the aisle, knocking several cameras off their podiums.

Bret pulled himself up, but the camera man was already at the door. Bret ran out, asking the same question again. He bolted out the door into the street, but the camera man was gone.

Bret’s back was shooting pain. He’d been beaten twice in the last week, and his injuries were piling up. Getting shoved back into rough-edged display electronics didn’t help. He held his sides and doubled over. More than anything, he felt helpless. He was being followed by a man with no name, no clear motive, and who was both faster and stronger.

# # #

As Bret trekked back to his car, he thought about Terry, his coworker back in Vancouver. Terry understood Bret’s departure more than anyone. It had everything to do with the work. Bret needed a change, and Terry suggested the states.

Everything’s easier down there,” Terry had told him late one night. They were out at their favourite bar downtown. The place stank of pot, but they weren’t smoking. America is a cinch. Low taxes. Everything is super cheap. Nobody assumes they have the right to know you, to ask questions. People keep to themselves.”

That would be nice,” Bret had said, laughing. But you’ve got to admit the irony of a gay dude advising his friends to move to America.”

They’ll get their shit together soon enough,” Terry said. They can’t stay in the dark ages forever. Don’t worry; they’ll elect a democrat in the next election and she’ll fix everything.”

Hilary, huh?”

She’s a shoe-in,” Terry said. She’ll clean up the whole mess. And until then, you can lay low in republican paranoia and low gas prices.”

Just for a few months,” Bret said. I love this city. I love you guys. I don’t want to lose this. I just need to get away for a long vacation.”

Terry, he said, We understand. We all do. This job is hard on everyone.”

I’ve got enough money saved up for a few weeks off, but any more than that and I’ll need to get a job. I wonder if I can do something over the net.”

Forget that,” Terry said. That’s the other awesome thing about the states. There’s hundreds of jobs in every city never ask you for tax info. They pay cash and don’t ask questions.”

What kind of job does that?”

Terry thought for a second and then snapped his fingers. Album!”

Album? Like a record?”

No, no,” Terry said. I know this guy in Vegas. Album Yukes.”

Weird name,” Bret said.

It’s not his real name,” Terry said. It’s his avatar.”

Avatar?”

He’s a professional blogger. He does celebrity gossip and shit like that.”

What about him?”

I was online with him a few weeks ago. He’s looking for a photographer. He wants to take his site to the next level. Apparently he wants to pay well.”

Terry, I’ve never so much taken a picture of my mother’s cat.” Bret said, drinking his pint.

How hard can it be?” Terry said. Point. Shoot. Run away. Easy.”

Bret was receptive to the idea, if a little confused about the concept. Where is this Album Yukes?”

Terry took a long drink and said Las Vegas.”

Terry explained that the neon swell of cheap thrills and good old American excess might distract the voice that was telling Bret to burn all his possessions.

It was a stupid, crazy plan that worked until it didn’t. Somehow, Bret had never thought to blame Terry until this moment.

Fucker,” he said to nobody. This is all his fault.”

Bret found the keys to his car and opened the door. He started the engine, still holding his side. His back hurt against the seat. He needed some rest, some pills, and some perspective. He thought about Jenny, and how if he’d just kept his goddamn mouth shut none of this would have happened.

# # #

Fane’s campaign office was all but empty. Banners stacked six by six against the walls, next to picket signs with his name, next to a fold-up table holding bumper stickers and pamphlets, next to a series of laptops for interns and correspondents to do research, across from a series of desks for the paid employees. Four seats away from the bumper stickers, Jenny Kingston was backing up the last of the emails. She was charged with taking all of the server files, emails, jpegs, tiffs, quark files, queries, form letters, all of it, and storing two sets onto to encrypted external hard drives. Jenny sat in her black, plush, comfortable chair, sipping coffee out of a cup with Fane’s name on it. His name was in red. Jenny always thought it should have been in blue. She watched the window on her computer that showed files moving from one drive to another, the same white page floating from one yellow folder to the next. She saw the overall file size. Every single file regarding Fane’s campaign for the primaries totaled twenty four gigabytes. Every single video, photo, and communication during the last eight months fit in a space smaller than her music collection at home. It made Jenny feel old fashioned.

Jenny sat alone, watching the files float. The sun was beginning to go down. The wind was beginning to pick up. Out the front window, Jenny could see a coffee shop and a bar. It was busy. Fuck,” she thought. I could use a goddamn drink.”

Though she’d done her best to conceal her relationship with Bret, several of her coworkers knew the score. They knew he was a paparazzi, and they could do simple math. Once it became common knowledge that Bret had done the stakeout and taken the picture, word spread quick that Jenny might have had something to do with it. The first two days after the blog post had been the hardest. There were literally thousands of emails to defer; everyone went into crisis control mode. Everyone stayed all night trying to fan the flames. In the morning the next day, 24 hours after the post, Fane accepted the fact that it was out there. He called up a republican committee representative that handles crisis involving sexual scandals. The podium of shame came out. A press conference was called for noon. Every major news channel was in attendance. This was the kind of news that could single-handedly carry the 24/7 news cycle through a weekend.

Jenny was a little more than pissed that this story is what finally landed her a panel seat on MSNBC.

It had been three weeks since the incident. The news channels had moved onto other things. They’d scraped them clean. All there was left to do was clean up the office and go back to whatever it was they had all done before.

Jenny had a private meeting with Fane a few hours after the incident. He wanted answers about Bret. He wanted to know how it all happened. Jenny lied to save her job. She had said that Bret had figured out her password and was reading her email. She called him a jealous boyfriend. She told Fane that Bret thought the two of them were having an affair. The lie had everything going for it. It exonerated her from any real responsibility, painted Bret as the sole problem, and flattered her boss.

Reggie had smiled at the lie, at the thought that he was having an affair with his secretary. I suppose that sort of thing has been known to happen,” he said. And I have to give it to him. He smelled an affair.”

Yes,” Jenny said. But that doesn’t forgive him for what he did.”

Reggie asked her, Are you going to keep seeing this man?”

Reggie,” she said. He violated my trust. He threatened my career and he went out of his way to destroy yours. If I don’t kill him, I’ll be showing incredible restraint.”

Jenny had shown incredible restraint. Over the next two days she’d kicked Bret out of her apartment. He’d gone to crash on the asshole’s couch. She threatened to burn all of his stuff, and nearly went through with it. She was white-hot angry, the kind that usually ends with a punch to the gut. That was the other thing. Even though she wanted to beat Bret within an inch of his life, she knew she’d regret it. She had to force herself down from violence a few times. She kept telling herself that she’d regret it. Over and over in her mind, the old childhood motto, violence never solved anything.

Jenny was putting a lot more Baileys in her coffee over the last three weeks.

Slowly, the files ticked along, from one folder to another.

Reggie didn’t have to fire her because the whole office was out of a job anyway. Once the files were finished downloading, she was to take one to Reggie’s house and place the other in his safety deposit box. When that was done, it was done. She was free. The campaign would be officially over.

Reggie was out of a job, too. The representatives of the party had asked for his resignation within hours of the scandal. He remained the governor of Nevada only because there were a few hundred t’s to cross. That was always the problem with being a representative. The second you stop representing the populace that voted you in, you were out. The irony, something Jenny held onto as the only amusing aspect of the whole mess, was that Reggie hadn’t really done a great job of representing the people of Nevada until he started fucking around.

Jenny sipped her coffee, and watched her job slowly transfer away.

# # #

Album had been killed by his own men for the last fucking time.

Goddamn you to the 12th circle, Gary!”

I’m not Gary, I’m Joker143.” Gary said through his headset, two thousand miles away.

Album gave him no quarter. Gary, I don’t care what stupid gamer tag you use. I met you at the Bloggers conference in Miami six months ago. I wanted to smack you and your gay haircut then and I definitely want to smack you now.”

Album,” Gary said through his mic. That’s hardly constructive.”

Constructive, Gary, would be you not shooting my ass when you’re running behind me. Constructive would be you throwing your grenades instead of simply dropping them, so the people around you get blown the fuck up.”

Okay, jeez man,” Gary said. Let’s go again.”

No, fuck this,” Album said. I’m out. I gotta let one out I’m so angry at you right now.”

Album threw down the headset and cranked the music on his stereo from his remote. He tossed the remote down and got up to his computer. It had been a solid four hours since he’d last jerked off, and he figured he was due.

Album worked himself up into a small sweat. It wasn’t going to take long, this one. The movie he’d been watching earlier had saved his spot for him. It was great. The more the years went by online, the easier it was to enjoy whatever type of pornography you wanted to see. Album kept it simple. Fake blonde hair, fake tits, and twins. As Album stroked, he knew it would take him half of next week to get through this particular movie.

He was ready to go. As always, he tried his hardest to keep himself at 9, that state of pure anticipation without guarantee of release. He knew it wouldn’t last, though. He’d known that for years.

Just as he’d reached the point of no return, his doorbell rang.

Album knew he had, like, ten seconds to go. He ignored the bell. It rang again.

One fucking minute!” He screamed, then, like clockwork, got it all over the bottom of his shirt.

Fuck!” He said, hating himself but incapable of helping. Not a-fucking-gain.”

The doorbell rang.

Jesus Christ, one second!” He bellowed. He stood up. He took off his shirt.

He pulled back on the door handle, and couldn’t believe his hazy, weary eyes.

Hello Henry.”

Reggie Fane stood in Album’s doorway, and Album smelled like fast, easy sex.

Album cleared his throat, caught his bearings. The little death held a small cloud over his head, but it was clearing. Um, I don’t…I don’t know who you’re…”

Cut the shit, Henry,” Reggie said in the calmest intimidating voice imaginable.

How did you get my real…”

Taxes,” he said. Can I come in, now?”

Album poked his head out his apartment door. Reggie was alone.

What do you want?” Album asked.

To talk,” Reggie said. Just wanted to talk to you.”

Album thought fast. Sure,” he said. Just let me get a shirt on. Come on in. Make yourself at home.”

Album rushed into his room as Reggie stood in the living room. Reggie looked at the couch. He noticed the half-eaten bag of chips. He saw the game controller with the microphone plugged in. Reggie noticed the stereo, the pile of burned CDs. Lastly, Reggie saw the computer.

While Reggie soaked in the habitat, Album found an old analog recorder. It was illegal to record people without their permission, but if Album hadn’t broken the law as often as he had he wouldn’t be where he is. As he turned the tape on and stuffed it into his pants pocket, he wondered how much he and Reggie had in common.

Album emerged from his bedroom with one thought in his head. He asked Reggie, So, what did you want to talk about?”

It’s fascinating,” Reggie said, waving off Album’s question. That I was taken down by a man seemingly incapable of keeping his own house clean.”

If you came here to insult me,” Album replied. You could have just posted a comment on the blog.”

Reggie smiled. I thought it might be good to meet my maker.”

Album cleared his throat again. What? Are you here to shoot me or something?”

I came to talk,” Reggie said. Though the thought has crossed my mind.”

Album offered Reggie his second chair. He took it and sat. Album sat down on his computer chair.

Please,” Reggie said. Don’t insult me by thinking I didn’t see the recorder in your pants pocket.”

Album gave a quick look of surprise, but was impressed at Reggie’s eye. I guess giant bulges in pants don’t get by you, huh?”

As Album pulled out the recorder and hit stop, Reggie smiled. That was actually somewhat clever, so I’ll let you have it.”

Why thank you,” Album said.

I came here to ask you a few questions,” Reggie said. I’ve talked to just about everyone I know about this situation. I’ve spoken to all the people that work for me, all the people who were pulling for me, and even a couple of my political opponents. I’ve spoken to the press. Some have been sympathetic, and some less so. I’ve given interviews to many people. So, for the sake of context, for the sake of getting the other side, and for the sake of being a better politician, a better representative, I’ve come to talk to you.”

Album heard the governor, but still couldn’t figure out his game. Still, this was a fascinating, terrifying, electrifying opportunity. Album said, I’m all ears.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 4

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Next to a heavy and grated metal fence, Bret squatted. He squinted, looked forward at the next kill. It was the classic paparazzi conundrum: stay at the fence, or try to sneak in for the close up? Staying at the fence meant fewer shots, but going over often meant getting trampled by security guards, broken equipment, and maybe no shots. It came down to, what kind of shot was needed? How important was it to get close up? Bret didn’t have to answer this question himself. He was surrounded by a dozen other snap-jockeys, and it was only a matter of time before one was dumb enough to leap. In the line of other cameramen hugging the fence, one jumped over and was quickly stomped by a pair of steroid-monthly subscribers in black shirts and earplugs. His camera was tossed back over the fence. It landed between the rest of the paparazzi. The brave, stupid one was escorted through the house and undoubtedly kicked out the front door.

The grey-haired fellow to Bret’s right shook his head after picking up the tossed SLR. Frank, you idiot.”

Bret paid little attention to the other guys, though he was always a little fascinated. Celebrity photography was a maddening position, and he had no idea how people did this longer than he had. How did everyone deal with it? Did they go home to families? Were they all sad bachelors? What papers did they work for? Was their any hope for any of them? Bret felt with the gig until the consequences began to pile up. He wondered what consequences piled up for the rest of them.

The party they were all shooting had a medley of b- and c-listers. It was a smorgasbord, an all-you-can-eat. Reality TV stars, game show contestants, 80s and 90s TV soap stars, and, of course, all their respective spouses. As it usually was, the number of strict nobodies was at a minimum.

Some days, though, it really all depended on who you called a nobody. Some of these people hadn’t been on TV in years.

The grass underneath Bret’s feet was lime green and softer than any real grass could hope to be. Nothing underneath it could be called real dirt, and few people in the vicinity were who you could call real people.

Some days,” the guy to Bret’s right muttered to nobody in particular. I wonder why I’m not in the Middle East shooting real news.”

Don’t talk crazy,” Bret said. Besides, all the great war photos have been taken from that one. Got to wait until the next war and get in within the first three weeks if you want any kind of run.”

Oh, right,” he said, looking over at Bret. Because we have such a drought going on with these twerps.”

Bret said, I hear you, but what are you going to do?”

Bret looked over at the older man, squatting in a similar position, but lower. He wore a black tshirt and blue jeans. His hair was grey but long, flowing down to his shoulders in clean strands. He wore small grey-framed glasses, and sneakers. From his neck hung a matte-black SLR with an egotistical lens. In his hand was a point-and-clicker. He noticed Bret checking out his equipment.

Just got this one,” he said. It’s got an always-on connection. I take the shots, and they appear on the blog within seconds. So even if something like that happens to me,” he said, pointed to the trespasser’s tossed camera, I won’t lose the whole reel.”

It’s funny,” Bret said. Some people still call it a reel.”

Call me old fashioned,” he said.

Bret said, Old fashioned with a wi-fi card.”

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, my friend. And besides, I need something to keep up with the kids like you. This here’s a young man’s game, like being a DJ or a millionaire.”

They both snapped off half a dozen more shots before Bret extended his hand. Bret.”

Hetfield,” the old man said. Pleasure to meet you.”

A moment passed. They both studied the party. Bret looked around at the other photographers. A few were giving up, realizing not nearly enough interesting things were happening.

Some days, it really all depended on what you called interesting.

Hey, Hetfield,” Bret said. You know lots of, um, our people around here?”

Sure,” he said. I know a few. I’ve even seen you around on a couple big runs.”

Good to know I make an impression,” Bret said. But, I was wondering if you’ve ever seen this one guy. He’s really tall, like, almost seven feet. He wears a trench coat. Black hair.”

Hetfield interrupted him. Did you get a picture of him?”

No,” Bret said. He kept vanishing. My boss thinks he’s tailing me.”

Hetfield lowered himself so his knees hit the fake, lime grass. The long gray hair on his head was still, as if he was carrying trays of dishes. His back was so perfect, but his eyes were just as square. He said, No, I don’t know him. But your boss is right.”

The two photographers were silent for a moment. The few remaining on the outside of the fence were still angling for shots of celebrity excess, even though the scene amounted to little more than a Sunday barbeque among friends and spouses. People like Bret and Hetfield were least welcome during these events, less than usual. The truism was ironic but the facts made it no less true: celebrities are only cool about paparazzi’s when there’s product to sell. Standing around drinking coolers and eating burgers did not count as shilling, it counted as hanging out. What, in anyone’s minds, was there to photograph?

Hetfield, he began to pack away his gear. He placed the expunged photographers’ camera into his own bag. To Bret, he asked, Tell me, have you made any wealthy enemies recently?”

For a second, Bret thought the answer was obvious. But it wouldn’t have been to anyone else. Even to another paparazzi, Bret was just a stranger. Even when the credit is given to a photographer, their name is never remembered in the story. People only remember the paper or the website. Maybe the writer. But never the photographer. The credit line is too small, too deep in the names responsible. Although the story would often be useless without a picture, the author of the work rarely gets called in. It was, then, no surprise that even Hetfield, a career pap who knew others in the field, might not have put two and two together.

It took three deep breaths, but Bret finally came out with it.

You remember the news last week? The Reggie Fane story?”

Hetfield nodded.

Bret said, That was my shot.”

Hetfield’s eyes went wide. Fuck, seriously?”

It was the first time Bret had spoken to a stranger about it. It didn’t feel like anything, even though it was the biggest thing he’d ever been a part of.

Hetfield finished packing. You know,” he said. I’ve been in that position, And I know how much of a double-edged sword it can be. On the one hand, you’re probably rich. On the other hand, I’m in no way surprised there’s someone on your tail. You killed a political career, kid. I’m surprised you’re still alive.”

Hetfield stood up, and extended his hand. Bret shook it. Before he left, Hetfield said, If I were you, I’d figure out who the PI is and break it open before Fane’s people get too close.”

Too close?” Bret repeated, as if he’d never heard the term in the last ten years.

Hetfield nodded and snuck away, vanishing quickly through bushes and fence. Bret took one more shot of the party, a wide panorama view of as many of the young and beautiful and old and cosmetically treated as he could. He looked around, pregnant with paranoia at the thought that there would be extinct consequences for what happened the week before. He had thought about losing Jenny, and how that was the worst fallout of any decision he’d ever made, but that it had already occurred. It was eating at him in new ways ever hour, but the happening itself was over. He’d already lost what he treasured most in his current life. He hadn’t had much room for further consequences, for the idea that Fane wanted some kind of revenge, that he was that kind of politician.

# # #

Tess held Bret’s hands. She held them hard, as close down to the armrests on the beach chairs on her balcony as she possibly could. He wasn’t trying his best to escape her, but she still had to sweat to keep him there.

Look,” she said. There’s nothing to worry about. You’ve been through this before. Get a fucking hold of yourself.”

Bret had raced to Tess. He’d told himself that she needed to know this information. She was unimpressed with the news. Tess had hugged her friend, but had little sympathy for his worries.

Tess said, Let me calm you one by one.”

Okay.”

First of all, we don’t need passports to be here, and we won’t until 2008 or something like that. We can run this life for another two years. And we’ll figure something out then if we want to stick around down here.”

Bret nodded. It was cold on the balcony. They both wore grey, oversized Canucks sweatshirts.

Secondly, we don’t need VISAs, because we’re here on vacation, remember?”

Bret had always felt anxious about this part of their alibi. He said, You know, I don’t think that Reggie is going to buy that we’re here on vacation if it was my work that got him in shit, you know? The insipid patrol guards are one thing, but this guy, he’s got it out for me.”

Tess was still a little angry at Bret about the whole thing, though she’d done her best to conceal it. She bit her lip, wanting to strangle him, but also hold him. She never knew what to do with the poor bastard. Against her better judgment, she found herself incapable of properly decking him.

The best she could do was a mild guilt trip. You know, there’s this crazy idea about laying low in a country you’re not really supposed to be in. I don’t suppose you ever fully grasped that concept.”

Bret said, Look, I get that I messed up. I should have never taken advantage of Jenny’s trust. I should have never followed him and taken his picture, and I should have never handed it over to Album. It wasn’t worth it.”

The money sounded like it was worth it.”

I’m not trying to be cheesy here, but no amount of money would have been worth losing Jenny.”

Tess recoiled a little at the weight of being the recipient of that statement. Then why did you do it?”

Tess’ question severed Bret’s vocal chords. His throat clenched. The air around his mouth escaped, and his tongue curled back. Every square of flesh on his body felt this question, and it was one few of them could answer.

The truth was written on his face, but he couldn’t say it. He looked away, into the desert horizon. Bret felt terse, as if he could spit out the I did it because…” but incapable of finishing it. He knew but he didn’t know. His mind was torn in three directions, and none of them seemed right.

It was a double bind,” he said. Jenny told me about the affair, and that left me with two options, neither of them carrying conclusions I would consider acceptable.”

To their right, another balcony. It was empty, but full of furniture. To their left, an empty hanging caged slate of concrete. Behind them, warmth.

Tess said, Well, whatever. You had a fight with your conscience and you lost. It’s done now, and you’re going to have to deal with Reggie at some point or another.”

I’m sorry if you end up getting involved.”

I won’t,” she said. This is your problem. If they even sniff in my direction, I’ll be back home within the day, and you’ll never see me again.”

Unless I go back with you,” Bret said.

You wanted to leave way more than I did. I followed you, remember?”

It had been just over a year since they’d left Vancouver. It felt longer to Tess.

Tess had followed Bret, and it still hurt her a little. They had become friends after it all, but she was always doubtful it had any meaning other than proximity comfort. It sounded silly because it was the United States, but Tess and Bret were largely alone. It was the second set of months, after the fight and after Bret met Jenny that was hardest for Tess. Until then, she flew high.

A moment went by when both of them flashed back a year, to what happened between them and why Jenny was still a sore subject. Tess was happy it was over, but didn’t want to come across as righteous. She and Album had both convinced Bret to take the picture, and Tess had so far done her best to be cagey about her reasons. Like Album, she too believed it was an important piece of journalism and a real break for Bret. But she had also hoped things would turn exactly as they had.

Bret thought about a year ago too, but was not yet in the place to realize that perhaps he had made a mistake chasing and winning Jenny in the first place. Tess wanted him to figure that one out on his own.

Tess loosened the purple hair tie from her wrist and tied her hair back. She cracked her neck to the right. The sound broke their silence. She slid back inside. Bret didn’t follow. He looked out on the new morning, several feet sunken in thought.

Tess returned with one of her business cards. I forgot to mention this yesterday,” she said, handing him the card.

Your name is on the back.”

Bret turned the card over. He read it aloud. Gerald Oldman? I don’t get it.”

Tess explained, My party tonight, it’s at the Wynn’s new place.”

I’ve heard that’s impossible to get into,” Bret said. Well, for people like me, anyway.”

You still got that miniature camera?”

Yeah,” he said.

Good, bring it.”

Bret looked closer at the ID. So I’m Gerald? That’s who I say?”

Tess sat back down on her chair. That’s the thing. You can’t just say it. You have to boast it. The only way you’re getting into that place is with two girls on your arm and an air of disposable thousands. Tonight’s going to cost you a few, but you’re loaded currently so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

What about the two ladies?”

What about them? Find two girls at the bar and invite them in. You’ve done this before.”

Bret studied the handwriting on the card. Gerald wrote his name himself, didn’t he?”

Tess nodded.

Bret asked, Where’s the phone number?”

Tess rolled her eyes back, bit her lip, and pulled back the sleeve on her right arm. Ballpoint pressure and a sweat of ink revealed a number on her wrist.

She said, with her eyes half closed and embarrassed, He didn’t want me to lose it.”

But he was okay with you losing his name?”

That’s the lovely thing about men,” she said. They don’t much care if you forget their names.”

Bret tucked the card away. He thought about the night for a second. Is she going to be there?”

Who, Paris? I heard she might make an appearance.”

No no, not her,” Bret said. Trice. That friend of yours who decided my nose wasn’t broken enough for her tastes.”

Tess still hadn’t forgiven herself for letting that happen to Bret. He’d only partially deserved it, and entrance to this club was her little way of trying to get some more forgiveness out of him. I think so,” she admitted hesitantly. But I’m sure the single punch was enough for her. No doubt it’s out of her system.”

I don’t know if I should go,” Bret said. The last thing I need is someone creating a scene where I’m involved. I’ll get ID’d and blacklisted, and I’d prefer not to have that happen too many times, you know?”

Don’t sweat it,” Tess said, making a deal. I’ll tell you what. I’ll divert her, so she’s never within a hundred feet of you at any time. You can do your thing without worrying about promo girl vindication.”

It’s the worst kind, I’ve heard.”

# # #

Later in the night, after Bret out on assignment, , Album went home and lit a smoke on his balcony. He backed his fingers through his hair and looked out onto his abyss, taking in air and unknown smells. There was no wind tonight. There was nothing to do. He had his blog posts predated for another 24 hours. Bret had come through with a few shots from that barbeque, and that was enough to go on for the night. The first rule of being a professional blogger, Album always believed, was to stay off the computer whenever possible.

Album found his fridge, took out a cheap beer and returned to the balcony. He always thought smoking without drinking was pointless, and that drinking without smoking was the saddest. Drinking, smoking, and popular films; Album drank to that magic combo that kept people like him in business. It had been a few days since Hilton had donned his pages. He hoped the tip Bret had received from Tess in the morning proved right. It was around nine. Album figured Tess would be getting ready, and Bret would be charging his camera.

The drag finished, Album lit another, flicking the remains of old over the balcony onto the night-black parking lot below. He heard music from above. A party was going on. It was loud. The more he paid attention to the music, the more he heard the dozens of footsteps above. Right above him, a raging house party. Bootstomps and bass pounded through. But Album wasn’t an old man yet, and was never much bothered by noice. He smiled and forgot about it. He went back inside and hit the play button on his own system. He grabbed the remote and turned it up.

Album dropped on his couch. He thought back on the day of trying to help Bret move on, how it was probably all his fault but he didn’t care. He had always believed that people dig their own ditches. He’d been doing this for too long to have a thin skin about affecting people’s lives, even those of his friends.

Bret had said one thing that day that did affect Album. Bret said that it all made him want to go back home, but wasn’t sure if he could. As Album sat on his old couch, one leg over another, smoke and beer in the same hand, one foot planted solid, eyes cocked nowhere, he made a bullet list. Three things that bothered him about Bret, things he never really figured out.

    •    What about Vancouver was so unappealing that Las Vegas became a suitable sustitution?

    •    What about Tess was so unappealing that Jenny became a suitable substitute?

    •    What about whatever Bret did before he came here was so unappealing that paparazzi work became a suitable substitute?

These three questions were all one question, and the answer lied somewhere between Album and Bret, since Bret had come to Album in order to make all three moves. Album kept a mental sticky note in the corner of his mind’s eye with these questions. He made another, below it, with the one question that came from these three.

    •    What sucked so hard about Bret’s life in Vancouver that slumming in Vegas was a superior situation?

Album sucked back on the bottle, and peered out on the plains beyond the sharp city. The noise above him drowned out most thoughts, but one stung through. This city was a bleak amusement park aftermath caught up in bad decisions and worse role models. What was Las Vegas if not the bottom of the modern world? What was its purpose, if not to be the giant toilet bowl of America? More and more, Las Vegas failed to live up to its moniker. People openly spoke of things that happened there. It wasn’t scary anymore. And if it was just like any other city, if the planners of City Center were right, then what was the point at all? What did just any other American wasteland offer men like Bret, men like Album, women like Tess? What kind of escape was this?

He finished the smoke. He didn’t look at the stub as it fell. He looked out, and west. There was no sun. There was no moon. He went inside, dropped down to his couch, and picked up his game controller. After a few loading screens, he was elsewhere, snaking through brush and snapping necks of rookie infantry squads.

# # #

Bret smirked an asshole’s smirk. On the way to the bar, he found a pair of girls looking for free cover hanging out half a block away, getting ready in the reflection of a giant mirrored wall. The Wynn had tons of these fucking mirrors. They weren’t lit, so the reflections didn’t look as bad as half the people who tried to see themselves. Bret noticed the three friskers and the signs with red X’s over pictures of old cameras. A woman in a hoodie sweater felt Bret over. She was more aware than the bouncer. She felt more places than the average security. This was a big show; it was important to keep people like Bret out. But Bret wouldn’t be in his position if he failed at getting into the kinds of clubs who would never have him as a member.

He thanked the ladies and told them to go have a good time. He told them he’d catch up with them later after saying hi to a few friends. He never saw them again, and they assumed as much.

He grabbed an open piece of bar and asked for a rum and coke. A pretty, tightly dressed red-head stood next to him with a ten in her hand. As the bartender put the straw in his glass, he asked the girl what she was having. She looked at him, smiled in a way that showed she’d done this before but with faster luck, and told him to get her a Manhattan.

Thanks,” she said, putting the ten back in her purse. I’m Gina.”

Gerald,” Bret said. I’m from out of town, and I haven’t found anything to spend money on yet.”

Gina smiled, and when she received her drink, she clinked her martini glass with his short one. She was the perfect distraction.

They talked for a few moments about Gina’s promising acting career. She had an audition earlier in the day for a zombie movie where she would play the screaming victim that dies in the first four minutes. The audition, she told Bret, was so exciting, because she got to scream and she’s really good at that. Apparently. Bret, acting at his own best as Gerald, suggested that perhaps she should show him how she’d scream later.

Oh, Gerry,” she said. You’re cute.”

Bret ordered another round of drinks. He was doing his best to keep one eye on the growing crowd. At one point he thought he saw Jeremy Piven, but that could have been anyone in Vegas.

Gina was providing a great cover. She seemed genuinely interested in Bret so long as it appeared he had money or influence. To make sure this happened, he told her that he produced movies, which was one of the easiest covers because nobody ever asked what movies a producer has worked on, because not that many people knew what a producer actually does.

What movies have you done?” Gina asked, immediately appearing more intelligent, or at least more opportunistic, than Bret had anticipated.

He said, Mostly, I do Canadian movies.”

Ooh,” she said. Foreign. How edgy.”

She reached into her tiny black purse and pulled out a card. He looked at it and tucked it away. I’ll call you,” he lied.

Why do you keep checking your watch?” She asked.

Time zone changes,” he said. I’m from Toronto. It’s a few hours off, and I still don’t think I’ve got it right.”

It’s 11:30,” she said. He ticked the button one more time.

Got it,” he said, smiling. He’d taken half a dozen shots of the crowd, of models at the bar, at the dancing girls onstage. The problem with the watch camera was he couldn’t see if he had anything quality until he got home.

From across the room, Bret couldn’t see anything. The smoke machines were out. The lights were sparse and dim. The shots were probably going to be awful unless he could get above people and focus. These short, quick pictures were going to give him nothing.

Hey, where are you going?” Gina asked. Bret excused himself. Said he needed to use the washroom. What he needed were better pictures. He wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.

He definitely owed Tess for getting him into this club. He also owed her for letting him vent the last few days. He’d spent Album’s free time, but it wasn’t enough. Time was the most surprising thing lost in the scuffle with Jenny and the governor. He hadn’t realized it had almost been a year since they’d left home until it all happened. After big fits of drama like that, milestones feel more important. It was just time, but it felt less precious, more used, and sullied.

There were plenty of half-wit celebrities. Bret knew groups were better than one at a time, so he aimed wide. The photos would be face-tagged and geo-tagged before being uploaded, so everyone would know where the party was and exactly who was there.

On his way to the stairs, Bret ran into Tess. They’d done this juke a few times before, and none of them felt comfortable. But they still smiled. Tess had work to do, and hanging out with any one man too long meant she wasn’t pushing proper. She shifted away, trying not to look suspicious. She smiled at him like any other club-goer. He looked at her like any other promo girl. It was insulting on both fronts, and both of them felt slimy. It was one thing to perform a job that takes away your character, but to perform a job that makes you forget the character of your friends and lovers is something else entirely.

Bret ascended a spiral staircase to the second level. He passed by another bar and the bathrooms. It was midnight by this point. He looked over the railing, watch-camera pointing toward the masses. He wasn’t the only guy looking down to the crowd. Guys in cheaper suits than Bret’s rental looked around for their dates, or for new ones.

A few minutes passed. Bret waited. He knew he shouldn’t have. He knew he had to keep moving in a place like this. Take on a character. Be Gerald. Tess took great care of him. Bret wondered what she had done with the real Gerald. If anything happened. If she just used him in ways the old man wouldn’t have even noticed. He knew he had to be a brash asshole who could pay for entire women for the entire night. He needed to blow some cash. He thought, where did Gina go?

As he began to leave, he noticed some bright blonde in the crowd below. He stared for a moment. Other men stared. He heard the name, Paris. His eyes focused. Was it her? His fingers found the button on the watch. He did his best to catch her, even without seeing her. He needed to get down there to get anything worthwhile.

Bret moved towards the stairs, but he was stopped. A sweaty, cool arm wrapped around his throat quicker than he could get away. Someone tried to choke him. He could feel the fingers on his back. Rings. They felt like plastic.

Bret turned, trying to get away. He saw her, and got a better look this time. Trice, Tess’ beleaguered promo girl friend, the one who bloodied his nose the other day. Her face was unchanged, clenched, tracing his jaw with her eyes, undressing the skin to the bone, hoping to do nothing but damage.

I can’t believe you’re in here,” she said. This is a private event. No photographers. How did you get in?”

Bret didn’t answer. He didn’t want to be seen. He had to get away from her, far away. He needed to graze by Paris on his way out, and then he needed to get as far away from the bouncer as possible.

Look,” Bret said. I’m sorry if something happened to your sister because of me. If I could go back and take that shot back, I would.”

The apology held no currency. The angry woman’s face stayed stern. Bret backed away, towards the stairs. His back hit something that wasn’t staircase and it wasn’t wall. He looked behind. He ran right into a brick wall of a security guard.

This guy bothering you Trice?” He announced in a full, low voice that boomed above the music. Bret wondered if this wasn’t the plan the whole time, if Trice hadn’t noticed him watching the crowd for as long as he did. Always keep moving, you idiot, Bret thought.

Trice inched closer to Bret. She crawled around, and whispered into the guard’s ear. She had to reach. As she finished, the guard looked down at Bret with an authoritative lack of emotion he’d seen dozens of times before. He was about to ask Bret to come with him. He was about to take him to the front door and kick him out.

Come with me, sir,” he insisted. Bret looked at Trice. If he had known her better, the smile she gave would have meant ten more things than he saw. The smile would have indicated a sort of regret, something indigestible and hard in her stomach, a regret she might have later, even though it tasted so sweet in the tasting. The smile might have been an apology, a comeuppance, a pay, but one not wanted or really deserved. Bret might have seen that smile as something of a handshake, a business transaction with too many feelings involved. But Bret didn’t know Trice, and could not understand any of her little cues.

The guard did not take Bret to the front door, nor did he take him anywhere close to the glistening annoyance of blonde hair that might have been Paris Hilton. Tonight was going to be a bust. But Bret wasn’t worried about that. He just worried where he was being led.

Eventually, through the crowd and the corridors snaking behind the stairs and bars, they found a door. It led to the kitchen, then to the garbage collection room. 90s-era florescent tubes barely lit the cement hallway. In a few moments, Bret saw a door. He could feel the night breeze through it.

Outside?” Bret asked. Before he could finish his word, the guard swung his leg-sized right arm. His fist cracked against Bret’s left ribcage. His right side crunched against the wall.

Another right hand came, this time to Bret’s jaw. Blood coated his teeth, and some escaped his mouth in an ugly spit. He felt like his jaw had been broken. Bret lost the ability to see for a moment, but he felt the next shot to his chest. He collapsed, his knees surrendering to pressure. On his knees, bloody and nearly unconscious, the guard picked him up by the shoulders of his sport coat.

He slapped his cheeks to make sure Bret’s eyes were open. Bret kept them open best he could, but he was seconds from blacking out.

Wise guy,” the guard exclaimed. He had a deep baritone voice, one that might sound nice disconnected from threats of violence. You’re going to wake up in a hospital or a gutter or a police station, and that choice completely depends on the kindness of strangers. The choice you get to make is whether to ever come back here. Don’t think too hard about it.”

Trice…Trice….She doesn’t…” Bret couldn’t make out more than one word.

She isn’t any of your business. You’ve already done all the damage you’re going to do to her. Now, I’m going to hit you one more time, and then I’m going to drag you out to where we dump the drunks and the rapists and the cheats where you belong, you parasite piece of shit.”

Bret tried to lift his arms. He got his right up, but his left arm hurt too much. The right made no difference. The guard was fast and strong and motivated. Bret stood no chance, and in a few seconds was knocked flat out by a straight left to the jaw.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 3

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Tess’ balcony, though no farther away from the lights of the city than Album’s, faced the opposite direction. Sitting on cheap, gift-bag peach beach chairs, Tess and Bret peered into the desert horizon, looking past the suburban ring, past the highway darkness. There was still a little sun, still a little warmth to the open air.

Bret’s nose bandaged, his blood cleaned off; Tess offered him a drink. Tess had returned to the apartment several minutes after her friend had sucker-punched him, gave him a hug, and became a nurse.

“I’m almost out of clamato juice,” she said, handing him a thick, tall glass. She sat down next to him with her own caesar. She stirred the drink with a spike of celery. But it’s the least I can do. I’m so sorry. I had no idea she was going to do that.”

Outside of the beach chairs, Tess’ balcony contained only hanging plants. Bret didn’t know the names of any of them, and he figured she didn’t either. Only two were green. The rest were red and white and long and probably fake.

Bret took a sip and said, I figured that wasn’t the plan, but what’s her deal? Who is she?”

Tess grinned. Let’s just say she doesn’t like you, and that it’s for a very good reason.”

“Well, it’s not about Jenny, or anything to do with Reggie.”

“No,” Tess replied. It doesn’t. But it does have to do with your camera.”

Bret had to breathe through his mouth for the moment, and the entire time he felt a little high. This made him look surprised when he wasn’t, alarmed when he wasn’t.

Tess continued, slowly drinking her own caesar. It wasn’t your fault, really. But you didn’t help. Her sister, she’s a promotions girl too. She was doing a gig at the MGM during a private gala, dancing topless on an island stage. There were something like three or four girls doing the same thing. It was a big celebrity fundraiser, no cameras allowed; the usual. This was around three months ago. Remember it?”

Bret remembered vaguely. I was there, wasn’t I?”

“Apparently you were,” Tess said. And apparently you’d snuck in some hardware.”

Bret was a good paparazzi partially because he worked for a website. When you work for a website and not a newspaper, you can afford to take pictures with a small camera. Small cameras take poor shots, but they’re easy to conceal. It was a growing fad in the industry, as pocket digitals got better and smaller every year. In a few years, phones would do this job twice as effectively.

Tess said, There was this shot you took that ended up on that wonderful little site of Album’s that got your attacker’s sister in trouble.”

Bret knew the plot before Tess even explained the rest. Bret didn’t take pictures of promo girls, but promo girls ended up in his pictures. They were, by definition, around people with money and influence. The picture wasn’t even of her, but it didn’t matter. Bret still didn’t remember the exact picture, but he had no doubt it was true. Her nudity was the killer. Normal people fade into the internet ether of too much information. Bret had tons of extras in his shots, but very few were nude. While nudity may be the most abundant product found on the internet, nudity mixed with some level of celebrity attracted scandals. With scandals comes fame. With fame came friends and families finding out all about all your secret shit.

Tess said, Apparently the family won’t talk to her at all. They’re totally shutting her out.”

Bret spat over the balcony rail. Shit. This sucks.”

“Look, as much as I wish we lived in a world where it was easy to tell our parents about all the embarrassing things we do for money…” Tess stopped mid-sentence. There was no need to explain the rest. Bret thought about the kind of lies that came out of nudity, sex, or money. He didn’t have to wonder long. Those were pretty much the only reasons people lied.

The wind picked up a little. The sun died a little. In Vegas the chill comes quick. Tess stood up and went inside. Bret followed, comforted by the instant warmth of a cluttered space.

“I feel terrible,” Bret said. More than I already do. As if last week wasn’t bad enough.”

Tess said, It’s terrible, and it’s absolutely because of you, but you’re not entirely responsible.”

They sat down on Tess’ couch. Bret had to move a handful of tiny pink pillows.

“Don’t put those on the floor,” Tess said. She grabbed the pillows, piled them on to the back of the couch.

Bret asked, You want to explain how I’m not responsible for getting her tits on the internet?”

“Well,” Tess said, taking another sip. You took the shot, sure. But Album put it up without fuzzing her out. And I know that sleazy ass left her in there to up his hits. I get it. It’s more scandalous that way. But it’s not his fault either.”

“So what?” Bret asked. We’re going to blame societies’ fascination with sex?”

“No, we’re going to blame all four,” Tess said. Yeah, our society is totally sex obsessed. But there’s only so much you can control that. And you and Album are both sad little products of that. I guess I am too, and Trice, and her sister. You shoot celebrities because celebrities do stupid shit sex-wise, and Album runs a crazily popular blog for the same reason. Me and the girls get paid to make sure rich people buy the right kind of vodka. But let’s not forget the parents, here.”

Tess continued. The problem isn’t that the world is obsessed with sex. That shit’s natural. And the problem isn’t that there are assholes like you and Album profiting off sexual exploits. Profiteering is, well, profitable, and some people will do anything for a buck. The problem is that when parents freak the fuck out over nothing. I mean, her parents are fucking ex-hippies. They used to do that freaky key party shit and hang out half-nude at concerts all the time. At least she’s getting paid for it!”

Bret looked around, tried to distract himself. He used to live here, when none of this stuff was around. Tess had replaced Bret with free things, advertisements, proof of her life as a sexy billboard.

“Hey,” Bret piped up. Why did you get into the promo stuff?”

“I needed money, and Trice had been begging me to come along for weeks.”

“No, I get that part,” Bret said. But I mean, you’re the one who wanted to stay here. That’s why we broke up, right? I was ready to go back home. You weren’t.”

“That seemed to be part of it,” Tess said. But don’t pretend you didn’t just go and fall in love with someone else. How is the republican, anyway?”

“Come on,” Bret said.

Tess held back obscenities. She flexed both biceps and looked for something to stroke her ego a little. Did she leave you? You know, because of the picture?”

“I don’t know,” Bret said.

“I want you to know that I’m not angry anymore,” Tess said, changing the subject away from Jenny. Fuck. I was. I was in bad shape over you, buster. And I’m not afraid to say that to you. I came down here because I wanted this relationship to work, but Vegas killed us. It turned you into a different guy entirely. And you know what? I kinda fell in love with the city, the whole bright, dirty thing. It sorta shines on me, and I think you saw that, and then you didn’t like me anymore.”

“That’s not it,” Bret said.

“It is,” Tess said. Don’t try to pretend you respected my decision to find work down here, to actually enjoy it here. I know we were just supposed to be taking a breather from real life. But people don’t vacation for months on end, Bret. We either needed to find work or go home. So I found work.”

Bret sank a little into the couch, the cushion collapsing beneath him. It was a cheap couch, on a cheap carpet. He moved his fingers across the top to distract himself from getting too deep in with this conversation.

“This city changed us,” Tess continued. You thought it would give us a nice breather from our life at home. Your job was stressing you out and you needed a sabbatical, and I was working at that coffee shop, spinning wheels. We both needed a short uprooting. But it went too long and wore on us. We learned things about ourselves I think we weren’t supposed to learn. Not if we were going to work out together, anyway.”

“You should have come back with me,” Bret said. We would have been okay.”

“No,” Tess declared. I was finally having a good time here. I was finally making friends, making money. Promo work was really fucking fun.”

“Was?” Bret asked. You’re not having fun anymore?”

“It’s slowly becoming work, if you know what I mean. Those first few months, man. It was something else. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have traded for anything. I met so many people, did so many awesome things. I wore some seriously out of this world outfits. And I felt sexy. You know I never really felt sexy in Vancouver? It’s not that it’s bad, but every night isn’t filled with novelty and charm like it was when I started. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Nothing stays shiny and new forever.”

Bret smiled. He liked how Tess still talk about belief systems while not at all talking about belief systems.

“Speaking of work,” Bret said. I was really just stopping by for a quick chat. I actually have work to do tonight. I should probably get to it.”

Bret got up. He handed the glass back to Tess. It held half a celery and a little ice. She followed him back down the stairs.

“Hey, buster,” She said. Come around again when you’re not as busy. We’re still not even close to being done catching up.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Bret said. He thought about telling her he’d quit, but held back because he hadn’t. He knew himself. He knew he hadn’t quit until he actually left town. He decided he’d tell her then, when he got to the city limits. He’d give her a call.

# # #

Rosario Dawson had recently dyed her hair a darker shade of brown, as if that was going to deter anyone. To Album and Bret, it was nothing but a subhead. Maybe pregnant? New hair color reveals clues!

The lobby of the Bellagio was busy and gorgeous. Chiluly glass adorned the ceiling of the front desk area, painting everything below with a colourful reflective glow. The concierge area was crammed with men in suits, carrying briefcases, jacket breasts adorned with name tags above corporate logos.

Just past the lobby lay a huge indoor garden with rare plants and inventive fountains. Thin flutes of water shot from fake plant to fake plant, above and around the bona fides. Families and tourists were taking pictures of the exhibit. Bret fit in perfectly. Nobody would question why he had a giant camera. It’s a cliché, but paparazzi really do hide behind tall plants in hotel lobbies. Bret imagined his kind used to do this was so hotel security wouldn’t bother us while they reloading film, but now it’s really about the sportive elements. Any idiot can walk up to a famous person and take a picture and be a dick. But going in guns blazing leads to a bad reputation and, sometimes, a confiscated camera. Bret preferred it this way. Wait in the weeds for the perfect shot, secure the illusion that nobody’s watching, and then shoot when the moment’s perfect. Anything else felt like amateur work.

Bret saw Rosario walk in through the over-sized rotating gold doors. Tall and lean and healthy in ways only people with money can be in America, she sauntered with confidence and security, which made sense, considering the size of the mountainous, dulcet security standing next to her. She was wearing black slacks and a bright red top and short heels. The way she strolled, holding a glittery-black handbag—without any hint of gait—there was no way this girl was pregnant.

Bret fired off half a dozen shots from across the room, just to see if anyone would notice. Not only did his camera fail to draw any attention, but Rosario herself drew oddly few stares from the mostly bespectacled conference-goers. Maybe they didn’t recognize her with the new haircut, but they also could have had no idea who she was. She sashayed past the group, past the giant plants, into the restaurant at the end of the hall. She disappeared behind the door, and Bret knew he’d have to wait until after the meal to get any kind of quality shot.

    • *

In no culture is taking pictures of famous people a respectable position.

Jenny always said she had a problem with Bret’s job. She would continually argue with him over the ethics of it, over America’s predisposition with worshipping false idols. She would dissect the gossip rag culture, how little of it ever mattered, and how it only made people less interesting. And then they would fuck, because no matter what she said, Jenny was dumb in love with Bret. That his profession disgusted her actually helped in the bedroom, where she found the debasement a reason to smoulder.

To Bret, Jenny was everything wrong with America. She was for privatized health care, capital punishment, and the President. She was pro life, pro gun, and more than a little racist against Mexicans. On paper, they had absolutely no reason to be with one another. But Las Vegas is a weird place ruled by weird logic. The wrong things become irresistible.

And now, she wasn’t sure if she wanted anything to do with him. What the hell was he going to do with that?

    • *

In Vegas, you can lurk behind a fake plant all day long and nobody will bother you, but it gets boring pretty quick. Bret circled around the foyer. He did his best to keep an eye on the restaurant entrance, but something caught his eye.

Bret turned around and noticed a tall man in a grey trench coat. He had just entered the exhibit. He wore black jeans. His hair fell in greasy, unordered lengths, his jaw grubby, whiskered. He looked to be around 40. He skulked around for a minute. He wasn’t heading toward the slots. He wasn’t heading for the world’s largest chocolate fountain. He was sticking around.

The man stopped at a bench, lowered his side-bag, and removed a tank of an SLR, a giant Canon and a white, foot-long lens. He screwed on the lens. That kind of lens wasn’t for macro shots of flora; it was for capturing the sweat of Olympic sprinters.

The camera man pointed that thing directly at Bret.

Bret quickly ducked behind a tree. Did he imagine that? Of course he did. Why would anyone want to take a picture of him? He cracked his jaw, still sore from earlier. He found himself sweating, nervous, simultaneously paranoid and aware it was in his head. All week, he was wondering if someone might start following him. He’d killed the career of a vicious politician, and he knew there may be consequences. But a man with an over-sized cock of a camera? Seemed excessive.

Bret took a quick glance back where the man stood, but he wasn’t there. He scanned the room, but couldn’t locate him. He walked over to the bench where the man stood only a minute before, assuring himself he’d just been a little worked up over nothing. He calmed down, checked his watch. Dawson should be finishing up soon. He began to walk toward the restaurant entrance, but then he saw the bastard again.

This time, the camera man stood closer to the entrance. Bret could barely make him out. But there he was, standing straight, holding up that hulking telescope, aimed at Bret, moving as he moved. Now, he knew this was happening. Bret slowly inched back, into the hallway, away from view. He didn’t want a confrontation. The last thing he needed was another blow to the jaw, either by this man or security.

After a minute, Bret looked back. He made a quick tour around the concierge area, the bar, and the entrance to the casino. There was no sight of the man.

Just Bret’s luck, paying attention to the weird trench-coat guy made him miss Rosario’s exit. By the time he caught her, she was already heading for the door.

He moved as fast as he could, but there was almost no way he was going to get ahead in time. He could also run right up to them and handle the situation like a fucking monkey, but that wouldn’t help anyone.

Rosario hit the gold doors. She was outside. Bret figured he had about 30 seconds before she got in the car. They would have it ready for her. He pushed through the doors, the quick blast of air conditioning startling his eyes.

As Bret walked, he again caught sight of the guy in the trench coat. He was standing still maybe twenty yards away. He faced the doors. He took a camera out of his pocket. He aimed.

Come on, Bret thought.

The camera man was in the perfect position, the one Bret would have loved to have been in if he had a minute over Dawson. Rosario noticed them both. She gave a look of distaste, shook her head, and ducked into her car. It drove off, leaving the drop-off point still filled with people with cameras. Bret counted three other people who whipped out handheld cameras once they saw her.

Bret turned back toward the camera man. He was standing there, stoic, staring straight at Bret. He smirked. Bret began to inch towards him, but he got into an adjacent cab.

He had to make some calls.

# # #

Bret had called Album immediately after leaving the Bellagio. Album told him to meet him at the Veer. He was there looking at apartments, because Album was apparently the sort that wanted to own a condo on a street full of hotel rooms.

They stood in the centre of an empty living room. Devoid of furniture and well-lit, the realtor conveyed, in his surprisingly pubetic voice, This is where you can put, like, a couch, or entertainment unit. Or, I suppose, an ottoman. Anything, really. It’s a living room!”

The Veer Towers were a new pair of condo buildings at the front of Vegas’ new City Center, a behemoth project meant to either push Vegas into the 21st century, or revert it back to the 60s. Nobody was really sure. The Veer Towers were one part the residential plan, along with the Mandarin Oriental building, just south of Veer. Placed behind them from the strip was Aria, a ludicrously expensive hotel to build. Below the Veer Towers was a shopping mall filled with the most expensive brands on the planet.

The joke of it all was just how empty the place was. The mall barely had any customers, though half the stores were still under construction. And the condos were barely sold. It was a conflux of sorry intentions and short term thinking. The people who made these buildings thought there would always be money, but they also thought that people who would want to live in Vegas would also want to be this close to it.

Up on the 23rd floor, Bret circled around the kitchen’s island again. He kicked the cupboards as if they were wheels on a used car. He opened the fridge. He wondered if he was the first person to ever open it. He walked around. He looked out the windows. Beyond the speckle of neighbourhoods, Bret mostly saw desert.

“It’s quiet,” Bret said. You can’t put a price on quiet.”

“The question, of course,” Album said, mostly to the realtor. Is whether it can be loud in here and quiet elsewhere.”

The realtor smiled, doing his best to not scare us off. He had a little sweat on his forehead, and his game face was lame. He was too short to be authoritative, and too young to know better. Bret felt old even looking around this place, even though no one over 40 would ever consider it.

“Can we talk?” Bret asked. Something really weird just happened to me.”

“No, you can’t move in here with me,” Album said. I know you’d want to. It’s nice, right?”

“Sure, it’s fine,” Bret said. Wait, no, that’s not what I’m asking. I quit, remember? I’m quitting. I quit yesterday. It feels nice to keep saying that. Anyways, there was another photographer at the Bellagio.”

Album put his hand on the floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out. He pushed. The realtor took a step forward. Album was testing him.

Album said, Really? Another paparazzi where a celebrity was spotted? Come on, man. That’s not news.” He touched the blinds near the windows and scoffed. Seriously though, these blinds? Are they removable?”

The realtor shook his head, and told us about the remote control that shuttered them, turning the entire apartment into home theatre-quality darkness.

“I don’t think he was there for Rosario,” Bret continued. I think he was taking pictures of me.”

Album hadn’t looked straight at Bret since they started touring the place. He disappeared into the bedroom.

“Hey,” Bret said, following. This is a problem.”

“The problem,” Album responded, fingering the closet door open. Is that there is not nearly enough room in here for a double king.”

Bret said, Seriously? Double King?” He shook his head. You know what? Your frame size isn’t important right now.”

“Frame size says so much about a person, Bret. You should know that. You sleep on a couch.”

“That’s not my fault. That’s your fault. All of this is your fault.” Bret spat. I’m worried about this guy, and you’re picking a nice place to wreck.”

“It’s likely Fane’s man.”

Bret closed the door of the bedroom, just as the realtor was trying to come in. He leaned against it. He heard the faint knocking and um”-ing of an insecure man.

“Do you think Fane’s having me followed?”

“Probably,” Album said. You ruined his career and he has a lot of money. That’s pretty easy math, mate.”

Bret could hear the handle, jiggling. The voice of the realtor was muffled. Album quipped, I am impressed with how little sound comes through that door.”

Bret opened it, and the agent nearly fell in. Bret caught him, and stood him up straight. He patted down his jacked, as if it was dusty. He walked out. Album followed him through the apartment, out to the hallway. It was even quieter, there.

Bret stammered. I don’t know how you can be calm about this. First off, if someone is tailing me, then someone is probably tailing you. Secondly, how am I supposed to be calm about someone tailing me? It’s tailing. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve tailed.”

“I don’t know,” Album said. I highly suggest getting stoned and playing some video games tonight. It will show the guy who’s tailing you how harmless you are.”

Bret chewed on a fingernail.

“What do you think of the apartment?” Album asked.

“I don’t think you should take it,” Bret replied. It’s not you. It’s not anybody. I have no idea what kind of human being this place was designed to make feel at home. Like, you remember those old point and click adventure games from the 80s?”

Album replied, Like, those ones that were just flat pictures you had to maddeningly click on a thousand times before anything happened?”

“Yeah, as I kid I wasted hours trying to figure that stuff out. I gave up. I took up lacrosse instead.”

“You did not take up lacrosse. Lacrosse is not a thing that exists.”

“I did. I played lacrosse all through high school.”

“No, this is serious now,” Album said. If you do not admit that you, along with every other Canadian, has entirely made up lacrosse, then I am calling Fane myself and turning you in.”

Bret, with his hands in his grey hoodie pockets, his feet shuffling like an eight year old who has to pee, he shrugged his shoulders. My point, was, if that apartment was one of those games, you’d click on the window, and you’d click on the walls, and the floor, and, you know what the game would tell you? There is nothing here. Let’s go.”

# # #

It was getting near four in the morning. Tess felt the air on her, closed her eyes slowly, breathing in through whatever pore arched feeling, before letting her back go limp and her feet leave the ground. She sat on a plush black stool, girded permanently to the floor with thick enough metal to hold the obese. The cushion was soft, a burnt dark red kiss that let her sink in a little. It made part of her feel good and left the rest to fend.

Tess’ shoes, bright-silver bedazzled platforms the club demanded but didn’t provide stuck to the bottom of her feet. She’d lost feeling in her heels an hour before, but blood was beginning to recirculate. Her legs, naked and smooth and warm, hugged one another and wrapped around the stool’s cold thick single leg.

She wore a tassel-filled white vest, cut low and with the sides opened up. The outfit, meant to synchronize with the team of other girls than impress or titillate the crowd, looked less like clothes than a Halloween costume for a cheerleader. It was cheaply sewn, its half life barely a weekend.

She’d asked for a tall pint, and by the time it arrived she hadn’t yet breathed enough to down. After almost every hard shift, Tess unwound in a nearby bar. She didn’t always drink, but she always breathed deep. After too many hours of being a prop, she had to reemerge a real person, and that required a few minutes alone. She used to do more yoga. She used to go to a class. She thought, then, about finding a class here, and putting down a deposit and signing a contract. She blinked, her eyes staying closed longer.

Snaked around her index finger was a silver ring, and she liked to clink it against glasses of beer. She loved the sound, how it started high and held longer the emptier the glass. She once had a crush on a bartender simply because he had a silver ring on his finger, and every time he picked up a glass it made that same noise, that same tingggg.

The temperature in every Vegas casino drew inspiration from Disney World, always blowing the same drift of light air conditioning regardless of season or weather. It was a permanence Tess had come to know but never love, as she sometimes missed the surprise climatical turns of British Columbia. That Vegas became cool at night did little for the case that she often?and often in times of slow, post-work reflection like this?felt that she lived in a place without time, without a world surrounding it. Las Vegas reflected the world using various methods, but had nothing to do with it in any way that really mattered. People would miss Paris or Dubai or Melbourne. Tess thought, could the same be said of here?

The drink in her hand was cold, and her hand felt chill holding it, like an ice pack on a sore lower back. It reminded her a little of her old laundromat. It was a block away from her apartment, and she’d learned it was wisest to stay, to make sure nothing was lifted. Even in the warmer months, the laundromat was freezing, which made for a musical chairs of people jumping in and outside to keep balance. Every time her laundry was finished, she’d open the dryer, engulfed in a hot haze. It was so much hotter for having stewed in this freezer of a room, and she would burn her hands on the door. The air would hit her, and her too half would steam as her legs stayed frozen.

Later, when Bret and Tess got serious, she’d bring her laundry to his place, and she didn’t feel two opposite climates on her skin anymore. But here, in a bar tucked deep in the Aria, she could all but touch the hot laundered air mixed with the frozen reality. She couldn’t bring herself to drink, but she held on.

# # #

Bret sat on Album’s couch, high and unhappily distracted. The controller in his hand was proving an unsuitable veil from his guilt. Album was doing a slightly better job with his rambling, a terrible habit he picked up from too many forum posts.

“I’m better with the headset,” he said It’s just a fact. If I can’t control the group, the whole thing falls apart.”

“Winning a fake war is really important to you, huh?” Bret quipped.

Album proclaimed, Only if I get to mess with it. We’re the bad guys.”

“We are? I had no idea. They all look the same to me.”

“You want me to explain the whole backstory of the fourth world war to you? I can. I wrote part of the wiki.”

“We’re not even simulating a real war?” Bret paused for a second. I guess that explains some of the laser guns.”

“There’s a whole religion founded on those guns, Bret. Seriously. I can explain it all.”

Bret shook his head, his hands working independently, moving his character into a position he thought might be advantageous, though he really had no idea. Please, never ever tell me what you mean. About anything, ever. I don’t want to know you more than I do. Understanding Album Yukes, which can’t possibly be our real name, by the way, is not something on my to do list.”

“You don’t keep a to do list,” Album said, missing the point entirely. But fine, if you want to play without understanding the whole ethos behind it all, you go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” Bret said. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

They played in silence for a few minutes. Bret died several times. Album walked over to his fridge and carried a pair of beers back to the couch.

Bret asked, What do I do about Jenny?”

“Is she still taking your calls?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Stop taking her calls. Tell her the whole thing has been harder on you than you originally thought. It’s been too hard. You can’t handle it anymore, and you need some time to think. That time will be all the time.”

“Album,” Bret said, swigging his beer. I cost her her job. I broke her trust. I am the bad guy here. I need to make it up to her somehow.”

“Shit, I didn’t realize she was out of a job.”

“We outed Fane. He lost his job. So everyone who works for him lost their jobs too. Politics, not unlike futuristic ground warfare that doesn’t make any sense, is a team game. We cost like, two dozen people their jobs.”

Album thought about it. Well, that happens Bret. This business has collateral damage. If I had a sackful of laundered money for every publicists’ job I’ve destroyed, I’d definitely have to get that new apartment. There would be no room for the sacs here.”

“My point is, I feel guilty. I want to make it right.”

Album paused the game. Bret thought it was because Album was about to make some profound point about the human condition and the inevitability of deeply cutting into the muscle of those you love most. But he unpaused a second later. It was long enough that Bret took his eyes off the screen, and was unprepared. Alvin’s character snuck up behind him and shot him in the back.

“Aren’t we on the same team?” Bret asked.

“I’m not really sure,” Album said. He let that linger. Then, he finally came through with the advice.

“There is no making this right,” he said. There is only moving on. This is one of those points in your life when you really do have all the choices in the world. You can stay with Jenny and try to make it work and make yourself miserable. You’re going to make all of us miserable in the process too, because being friends with a guy trying to make things work is the goddamn worst. Or, hey, how about you count your losses and move on? Why not try someone new? Or just be on your own for a while? I know you won’t listen to this part. I pegged you as a sad serial monogamist the second I met you. When were you last really single?”

“I think I was 17.”

“Fuck. You’ve gone from relationship to relationship for nearly ten years?”

“Not exactly,” Bret said. All of that was with Tess.”

Album’s mouth hung open, like Bret admitted to never having watched The Shining. Bret knew this, because six months before he’d admitted to never having seen Th Shining to Album, and Album proceeded to freak out, rant for fifteen minutes about how Bret had never lived, then quickly downloaded the movie and forced Bret to watch it twice.

“It’s like you haven’t lived!” Album spat. You were in the same relationship through most of your life? What the good fuck is wrong with you?”

Bret smiled. I loved her, Album. I still love her.”

Album started a new game. He slumped back down, his lumpy, oafish body withered into the couch. He said, It’s sounds to me like you know exactly what you should do.”

“What’s that?” Bret asked, now a little angry.

“Buddy,” Album said. If you don’t know that, you don’t know anything. No explanation of world war 4 is going to help you.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 2

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

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.

 

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 1

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Bret Fould felt a pull. His face close to the ground, breathing in a resemblance of earth, he shifted his weight slightly and reached back. Laying face-down, his torso beyond the gate, Bret couldn’t quite grasp exactly where the steel mesh grabbed his jacket. He inched backward, hoping it would break free, but the cage held. He crawled back, letting his jacket unfurl over his head. He swore and pulled his arms out through the sleeves. The fence held the jacket now. Bret was bare armed.

He inspected the point where the jacket got caught, and with little effort unlinked them. He patted the jacket down, and felt the chill on his arms. The desert was cold at night. That a city surrounded him didn’t help.

Bret decided to wait a minute before attempting the fence again. He checked his camera for dust. The lens cap was on and sealed. It came off too easily sometimes, but not now. He looked around for guards. He took the piece of paper out from his pocket. His handwriting was messy, and no one else could hope to make it out. He was here, trying to break into a private motel 16 blocks from the strip because of a hunch and a breach of privacy.

It was Bret’s job to get pictures of famous people doing infamous things.

The hunch was the thing. His source was his girlfriend, which made things thorny. His subject was her boss, which made things dangerous. Her boss wasn’t a celebrity, but a politician. The source came from her computer, which she carelessly left open on her coffee table while she went to tip the pizza delivery man. The hunch came from a tiny ruby rounded rectangle with a digital shine on it, peering out as an event on her calendar. It was the calendar she shared with her boss, who she worked for as an administrator. It was a different colour than the other shiny objects on screen. That’s what first caught his eye.

The ruby rounded rectangle had nothing in the name heading. But it did have something in the location. It was the place Bret was halfway through breaking into. It was the place that took a small chunk of fabric out of his jacket.

Bret’s job photographing famous people had given him a very specific list of locations to watch out for, like cues in a pop song with a designated dance. If he saw a name from his job out of context, it bristled the hair on his neck. These were places he’d find acts of lunacy.

The name of this motel stuck out in white Menlo type in a very small size. Bret recognized it, and knew it didn’t belong on a politicians calendar.

Bret put his jacket back on. It felt just warm enough, the thin material keeping the perfect partition from the elements. He’d rather the fence pierce it again than get his back. He didn’t want to be bleeding and running. Of course it would be worse.

Bret was breaking the law, but paparazzi broke the law every day. Bail is included in the fee. Bret worked for a man who replaced his broken cameras, paid for his hospital bills, and once placed Bret’s broken nose in the middle of a golf course. He kept Bret full on booze. He kept his bank account full. He even allowed Bret to set his own hours and pursue his own subjects. It was a sweet gig for the right rebel scum.

Bret had broken the same law in the same place before. It’s how he knew which part of the fence to climb under. It had pierced him before, too, but on the back of his thigh. Doing it over and over just made the law seem trite. He hardly considered breaking and entering an offense at this point.

Album, the absolutely made up name of Bret’s employer, allowed Bret these freedoms and benefits partially based off the quality of the work. As Bret crawled under the gate, inched himself past the flora, and put his back to the faux brick, he felt worth the coin. Album believed employing a single exceptionally driven photographer would net him better results than a dreg of half hearted dream destroyers. So far, the experiment proved fruitful.

There were other reasons Album hired Bret, and they were sinister. But we’ll get there.

You probably know the name Album Yukes. If you don’t, you know someone just like him. He runs a blog you read every day, but pretend not to. He tells you awful things about people, and you feel conflicted joy and guilt. You get off, just a little, on the things Album writes and Bret photographs. If you don’t, if you’re not like that, then you may not have much interest in this story. But Album, Bret, and others like them make a hearty living betting that you do.

The ruby rounded rectangle covered the hours of one to three in the morning. Yes, it seemed odd that there was a calendar event on an employee’s computer about this. Perhaps it was a mistake. Bret could peer into every window of the small motel and find no one of interest. But his hunch suggested otherwise. His hunch suggested that this politician hid a lie in somewhat plain sight. It suggested that the politician trusted this lie with a few close people. His hunch suggested that the event existed on the calendar so he could be reached in an emergency.

Bret began checking windows. He walked the aisle on the first floor that connected all the rooms. It was outside, and Bret couldn’t see anyone. He didn’t count on any security; for all purposes, the fence was the guard, and it was high enough to discourage most. As he walked from unit to unit, he kept close to the walls, trying his best to listen. Brick, painted yellow, faded over time, dug into his back; the coarse material grounding Bret, making him feel heavier and planted. He moved slowly. He crouched past open windows. He thought about the buttons he’d have to press in a video game to do this.

Bret would have to hold down the right shoulder button and press X. He’d then have to carefully inch the analogue stick in the direction he wanted to go. It was both easier and more difficult to do this in real life. He didn’t have to input commands in real life, so there was no chance of ordering his body to do the wrong thing. But he had to actually move in a stealthy, controlled way. This was never as easy as it seemed. In many ways, the character Bret played in a video game was a much better physical specimen, even if there was no actual physical specimen to compare.

There was lag in Bret. He hated his lag.

It was possible that Bret and Album played too many video games. If it were a more moderate amount, Bret likely wouldn’t have equated his current situation to a level. But it still made him smile, because he thought it was both sad and clever. He climbed the stairs—heavy, loud metal slats full of holes—and headed to the next set of rooms.

There was a light on a few rooms down. As he inched towards it, past three apparently empty rooms, Bret weighed the chances that he was walking into a trap. All at once, everyone in his life became a suspect. Album tricked him into dating Jenny. Jenny tricked him into looking at the computer. The event was there because they both knew Bret couldn’t help himself.

It all fell apart quickly. Album couldn’t stand Jenny, or at least the idea of her. They hadn’t met. Jenny didn’t want much to do with Bret’s job. Her feelings on it leaned negative. And Album couldn’t even be in on the job. Bret hasn’t told him about any of it, just in case it turned out to be nothing. Bret supposed that Jenny could have possibly known something, but if the simplest answer was the right one, she slipped up. She should have closed her laptop, but she didn’t. Simplest answer being the right one, Jenny trusted Bret not to snoop.

But what if Album and Jenny did know one another? What if Album cocked the whole thing up with her? What if he tricked her? Bret inched closer to the light.

Bret didn’t know much about the Governor of Nevada. He knew Jenny worked for him as an administrator or secretary or something like that. He needed to learn to listen better. He was sure she said administrator but it didn’t often come up. He knew the Governor was conservative and white and stuffy. He knew he was in his fourties, wore good suits, and spoke freely about his religious views. In that way he was typical of the sort of politician you would see in that time: tense about progression, eager to please an older voting bloc, and quick with rhetoric and convenient—though technically incorrect—factoids. Bret had only ever seen him on television, except for one time he walked by a photo op outside the Golden Nugget. There, he saw a slew of journalists using older cameras, stock grades purchased by committee on a budget. All he remembered was smirking like a smug fool. Photos taken with consent were never very fun.

A block away lay a sleeping construction site. Las Vegas fattened in every direction with new lucre. It used to be home to the vicious and lascivious, but increasingly was home to people, stock varieties without mutation. Bret peered out on the shaken plain, knowing oversized suburban sprawl when he saw it. This motel was quaint in comparison. It was a relic of a shameful past and present. Bret would be surprised if it lasted another five years.

Las Vegas was being gentrified, and Bret and Album were helping it along. They made it just a little more difficult for things to stay quiet, and their customer was the suburbanite; warm and cozy, ghettoizing guilty pleasure to a touch screen.

The light of the motel room was a beacon. As Bret peered through a break in the curtain, what he saw shocked him in new places. It wasn’t the state of affairs. Gay sex was rote at this point. Even gay sex involving a supposedly straight, conservative politician was a bit cliché. There had been two decades of scandal and hypocrisy to make it hardly surprising that such a staunch defender of traditional marriage would be caught in the arms of a stronger man.

What shocked Bret was that he was actually here, that his hunch proved fruitful, that it led him to a goddamned bed of riches. He came in with no expectations, and look what he found. It wasn’t even close to the first scandal of its kind, but that was almost better. The narrative was already established. Everyone already knew what to expect out of the bold surprise. And while it happened at least twice a year, it still headlined newspapers and dominated talk radio.

The cap of the lens came off with a snap. It ended up tucked in a jacket pocket.

Thoughts of guilt arose in Bret’s consciousness. It didn’t stop him from shooting, but they were there. They always appeared at this moment. The guilt came in the form of voices, usually what he imagined the celebrity sounded like in defeat. He would hear them plea that privacy is a right, that he was ruining their life. He didn’t know the governor’s voice from memory, so he sounded like Hugh Grant, a man Bret had fistfought outside two seperate restaurants. In Bret’s head, the governor held out his hand, trying to stop scandals from existing. But scandals don’t happen because people do bad things. Scandals happen because people believe there is scaffolding, some constructed apparatus that keeps them from being caught. Scandals happen because nobody is in charge.

Bret took a dozen pictures. They were well lit. Better, they were indisputable. The governor, in shape, tan, sweaty, passionate, and in focus.

Who was the other man, Bret wondered? What was his place in all this? How would his life play out, outed as it were as a peripheral. Bret hoped he would be the most innocent person of all. The governor would be torched. Bret and Album would be decried as scum. Even the people of Nevada would look inward a little and doubt their ability to trust. But this man? He’s the innocent. He’s just here for a good time. Or is it love? Are they lovers? Is it more than a motel fling? Even better. This man will somehow be a hero. He’s the only one doing nothing wrong. These were things Bret wanted to be true.

Bret capped the camera. A job well done and halfway home. Second star to the right. Or it would have been if his phone hasn’t decided to vibrate. Instinct and Internet addiction made him reach for it. He saw Jenny’s face, smiling, half-drunk and under a retro filter. He’d answer later. He’d call her back when he was way clear. He declined the call, but she rang again. He repeated, and then so did she. This was insistence. He turned the phone off and pocketed it, but thirty seconds of delay was enough to shipwreck the enterprise.

The door of the motel cracked open with lightening and loose wood. The lover was standing in front of Bret stark naked and breathing hard. Bret jumped to his feet, and the innocent pursued, his bare feet smacking the cement balcony. Bret reached the stairs, and he did his best to not turn to face the man, to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. He heard the footsteps, but more readily the screaming, the panicked gasps and gasses and pants of a very in shape and justifiably furious lover. Bret’s feet hit fake earth, but he tripped and lost his five-yard lead. The man caught a piece of his jacket. Bret swatted the hand away, the grip loose for real offense, and too few knuckles in play. Bret regained his footing and sprinted towards his original entrance point. He did this instinctively, and within a few seconds realized his mistake. He wasn’t nearly far enough away from his pursuer to successfully climb or crawl under the danged fence. When the thought finally did hit him, he was only a few feet from it, and he was forced to turn and face the man. As he did, Bret smirked; he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t believe he was being chased and possibly—if caught—beaten and humiliated by a man with so wild and long a cock. It was admirable from any distance, even in the dark.

Of course, only then did he realize the way out of peril: punch the poor bastard in the dick. It wouldn’t be hard, he thought. He laughed out loud. He charged the man. It was a gamble, and another heel moment in a series. The guilt kept hitting him, gaining traction and specificity. Not the dick, it said. Come on, he reasoned with himself. You’re a scoundrel but you’re not a dick puncher.

Once again, the guilt was loud but ineffective. Bret crouched before coming into contact with all the flesh, his shoulder hitting stomach, his legs firmly below. He could lift him, or drop him. He could tie him up in a bear hug, but what would that accomplish? What was the goal here? He’d ran, and been cornered. Now, he was fighting, but to what end?

The man grabbed not for Bret, but for the strap holding his camera by his waist. Within a second, he had the lens gripped. Bret shifted gears, swallowed his guilt and—out loud—said fine,” and grabbed the still-hard schlong and yanked. He couldn’t bring himself to actually strike it, and in the panic figured this was the next best thing. For a moment, before the wailing, Bret held onto one shaft while the naked man held onto Bret’s lens. The metaphor stuck with Bret for a long time.

Bret let go of the cock and made a fist, about to go big or go home. He didn’t have to punch him, because the man backed off, Bret’s camera in his hand. Bret held nothing. The man hoisted the camera, his lean, cyclist muscles shining in the dark lawn, and he looked like he was seriously considering smashing the device. Instead, he dropped it lightly to the ground, and cupped his hand in a motion any martial arts fan would recognize. He was telling Bret to come back, to re-enter the fracus, to bring whatever it is he was willing to bring.

Bret wasn’t willing to bring much. He turned and ran. He’d felt the naked man’s strength. He would be pulverized. It wouldn’t even be close. But in the fray, they’d switched places, and now Bret was only thirty or so yards from the real motel entrance, and he’d only need to hop a short vehicle barricade and sprint a short distance to true darkness and safety. So that’s what he did. The naked man did not pursue him. Disarming Bret and standing some ground was enough. He had the camera, so his lover’s secrets were safe. These were things he wished were true.

Away from it all, hands sweaty and sticky with earth, dust, and a little cum, Bret composed himself. He hid in an alleyway, between well-lit suburban housing. The imported wood he leaned on felt like it had never been leaned on by anyone before. It was cheap and thin but structurally sound, as if it was built to whether storms the state would never see. He caught his wasted breath. He blinked and coughed and patted down his clothes. He checked his pocket, to make sure the memory card from the camera was safe. Of course it was. He wasn’t going to risk the best payday of the quarter on a ground war. The flimsy plastic took up a knuckle of space in his hand. He cupped it, returned it to his safe pocket, and stood. He began to walk towards the closest populated street, to hail down a cab that would drive him home, to connection and rest and progress.

A Record Year for Rainfall

A Record Year For Rainfall is a book about becoming unstuck from your own mess. Bret is a paparazzi in Las Vegas, but he’s not from there and doesn’t like what he does. He fell into the work while on vacation from his regular life. It wasn’t supposed to become a thing he did for more than a few weeks. But then his girlfriend left him and he fell in love with someone else and everything went to hell.

There’s a gay politician, only he’s not out and he’s a republican. Bret’s girlfriend worked on his campaign. Bret found out, and took a picture of the man in the act. He gave it to his boss, who put it on the internet. Bret’s girlfriend left him, which makes him dumped, twice, in a city he hates.

The narrative of the book begins here, with Bret on the couch of his employer, a bastard of a celebrity blogger. He wants to leave town, but he already ran away from his life. What would running away from this accomplish?

Bret’s first ex, she’s still in town. She works promo in the clubs. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing with her life, either. Her best friend keeps pushing her towards easier money with just a little bit more skin.

Bret’s second ex, the republican, she’s still in love with Bret, and wrestles with what he did to her boss.

There’s lots of drugs, running from the police. And there’s a stalker, this creepy guy who won’t leave Bret alone, who keeps taking pictures of him. People get hurt. There’s consequences to every action, and a few of them involve wet, ugly fistfights in alleyways. Bret smokes. He drives around. He figures his shit out.

A Record Year for Rainfall is about getting out of your lazy life and falling back in love, if only for the drive home.

That’s the book.