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
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?