Lin Page 15
scrambling away, his hands to his head. The lighter is in the dirt, extinguished, and C.J. scoops it up, thankful for its smooth, pristine surface.

Who are you? he says. The man is not there to hear the question. C.J. struggles to his feet and looks around him. No sign of the man, no standard telltale trail of blood, too many footprints in the area to accurately mark his route. The beer bottle he had before must have completely disintegrated, for he cannot see shards, glass particles, anything. Just the sickly foam of the bottle's innards caking his arm. With a gargantuan effort he reaches down, gathers up the folders, stuffs them back inside the knapsack, and begins walking. One step at a time, foot before foot, back towards the disco. The searchlight is getting brighter, pinpointing the growing ache just behind his left eye. He wipes his mouth with his forearm. Every step tears at his guts where he took the blows. His cell is

going off again. "Angel." One more time, Faye. He looks at the screen, the tidy little digital readout. It's Allen. Screw Allen, he thinks, for the first time, and he goes on. He is at the edge of the parking lot. Annie's car is still there. His feet shuffle in the direction of the disco front door. With a deep breath he steels himself for the task ahead of him, and without a pause, rushing through it so he doesn't find an excuse to stop in the middle of it, he bats at his body, shaking off the dirt, the mud, all the excesses of the riverfront. That seems to have done the trick. Or maybe it hasn't, he is no condition to tell. But he must pass muster with the usher who stands before him. Eyes wide. Keep them wide, maintain the illusion of alertness. Good posture. That was always his weakness, he always slouched. There was the root of all evil right there. You slouch and pretty soon everything in your life goes wrong. Why did he not think of this before?