Chapter XIX: Justifiable Anger
Parker Matheson did not believe that she had ever cornered the market on misery, but there was a certain type of overall discontent, uncertainty, and generalized fear with which she was all too familiar, and when these periods settled in to take her for a ride, she knew exactly how to deal with them.
She had figured out what worked, what didn’t, and what was the only surefire means of controlling the emotional outcome in any given situation at a very early age. Alcohol wasn’t necessarily her go-to-substance-of-choice, but it sure as hell was the warm, friendly compadre that was always the first and most easily accessible means to getting the ball rolling in the direction she wanted things to go. She’d had her first taste of it from her father’s lukewarm, half-full can of Old Milwaukee when she was barely old enough to understand its various other practical uses, and when she’d had her first sip early this Thursday morning — after several years of continuous and productive sobriety — it had worked to bring her into the exact frame of mind she had been anticipating since arriving outside the doors of Thrifty Liquor just before its eight am opening.
Cheap vodka was Parker’s pomme de terre, and the fifth that got her started that morning — when her only problem had been a purloined laptop and the disappearance of months’-worth of meticulous interviews and research — was no longer meeting her expectations.
Plus, she mused upon her return from the hospital where her best friend was being guarded following his nearly successful suicide attempt, she was almost out.
Susan had dropped her off less than an hour before, and their drive from the free hospital parking lot to Parker’s apartment building on Prospect had been mostly quiet. Neither of them could think of anything to say to each other, especially after Mrs. Van Meyer had dismissed them, along with most everyone else in attendance, from waiting any longer. Trystan was stable, she had told them after briefly going back to see her son, but he wouldn’t soon be allowed visitors and their best bet was to go to their respective homes and loved ones, to rest, and to pray.
Before departing the level one trauma center, Parker had briefly searched the waiting area for Walker, but he was nowhere in sight. She had accepted Susan’s offer to take her home, and the duo said their parting words to the others, declining Bryan Blackthorne’s offer to walk them to Susan’s car.
The silence between Parker and Susan had settled in sometime between the emergency room exit doors and the parking lot, and though Parker had little doubt that it was mostly resulting from the gravity of the overall situation, she was fairly certain that it came from something deeper and angrier on Susan’s end.
She knows, Parker had thought, and the guilt of her relapse crept in, causing an all-too-familiar craving to get home as quickly as possible to do what she had to do to drink any negative feelings away.
In the seven minute drive from Kings Highway to her place, with a fine mist turning into a steady drizzle that smeared the early city night lights in streaking paths across the car’s windshield, Susan had spoken only once.
“I’m gonna go get Lula Marie and take her to my place until he gets out.” Flat and final and without the invitation for Parker to join her in retrieving their friend’s dog, which she would have expected (and would have been the case) if Susan weren’t feeling some degree of resentment toward her.
Yep, Parker had thought again. She definitely knows.
Her request that Susan call her if she heard anything was met with a blank, detached and silent nod of grudging acquiescence as Parker stepped out of the car and into the rainy early evening.
As Parker watched Susan drive away, she shuddered at a brief chill that crept across her skin in spite of the intense heat in an atmosphere that felt swampier than it had all summer. Almost hotter than it ought to be with the growing amount of precipitation.
Reaching the landing at the top of the stairs inside, she heard her neighbor’s usually contagiously pleasant laughter before she saw her.
“I heard the front door and was hoping it was you!” Jamie Hernandez exclaimed enthusiastically as she met Parker outside her door.
Parker stared away from Jamie’s bubbly gaze, unable to make eye contact with her as the irrational thought that her relapse was totally apparent to anyone who knew her stood at the forefront of her brain. She just wanted to get inside and polish off what was left of the vodka. It was the disjointed ideology of every active alcoholic that all they needed was a little hair of the dog to clear their heads and get them on the right track.
Parker’s reaction to Jamie’s happiness to see her must have clearly presented itself as much more out of character than she would have hoped. Jamie waited silently only for a moment before pressing her neighbor. “When didja get back?”
Deciding it was better to at least try to appear normal, Parker raised her eyes to Jamie’s. “Last night,” she said softly before dropping her head again to hide the tears that she felt welling up in her eyes.
“Good trip?” Jamie asked. Then, “what’s the matter?”Concerned, Jamie moved toward her, reaching a hand out to Parker’s shoulder, but she backed away from the touch.
“Just…” she was having trouble finding the right words and though she would have normally rejoiced at the chance to crawl up beside her friendly neighbor and spill the contents of the last painful sixteen hours, all she could think about was getting another fucking drink. Finally, she managed to speak with some succinctness. “Just a really bad day. My friend… Trystan… he’s in the hospital.”
“Oh no,” Jamie replied with more empathy than Parker wanted to hear from anyone. “Is it serious?”
Parker paused before nodding slightly and turning toward her door.
“Well, if there’s anything I can do,” Jamie’s words were clearly true and Parker nodded silently again, reaching into her bag for her keys to unlock the door.
Jamie’s next words stopped her completely. “I left your laptop on your couch. I hope you don’t mind that I just went in like that.”
Parker spun back toward Jamie with a new-found energy, her brain suddenly cleared of all mental obsession for a fix. “What?”
“Your laptop,” Jamie raised her right hand up to cradle her left elbow in an obvious expression of discomfort with the trajectory of this conversation. Parker saw the concern seeping over her neighbor’s face as she continued. “I mean, I assume it’s yours. It was sitting outside your door when I was leaving earlier today and I figured you’d get it when you left, but it was still sitting there when I got back and your door was still open, so I-”
Parker cut her off, an obvious look of terror on her face. “My door was open?”
“Yeah. I… it..” Jamie seemed to be having difficulty finding words of her own. “Parker, what’s going on?”
“Was somebody inside?” No longer sure about entering the space that had so recently been burglarized, Parker backed away from her door.
“I thought you were,” Jamie replied.
The two stood in silence for several seconds before Parker turned back to her apartment door. Then anger set in, and as her head began filling with the countless questions about the entire experience — the theft of the laptop, its mysterious return, her opened door while she was out — she remembered that there was a half-full bottle of sunshine waiting for her inside, and its procurement became more concerning than ever.
“Where’d you put it?” Parker asked.
“Where’d I put what?” Jamie was visibly confused and appeared to be experiencing that one other emotion with which Parker was most familiar: fear.
“Jesus Christ!” Parker turned on Jamie suddenly and her neighbor backed away in shock. “The goddamned laptop! Where is it?”
“Parker, I….” but before Jamie could answer, Parker was pushing open her apartment door and slamming it behind her. The force of the wood connecting with the frame shook the entire building and Parker immediately turned all three locks as she reached out her hand to slide up the wall switch.
Dim light softly filled the room and Parker stood in the resounding silence that lasted longer than she would have preferred. It was only broken by the distant, but approaching grumbling of thunder and followed by the sound of Jamie returning to her own apartment across the landing and slamming her door.
Parker felt horrible for the way she’d spoken to Jamie, but she needed time to think, to see the laptop for herself.
And to get into that damned bottle!
The computer was on her couch.
The vodka was in her freezer.
And once she made a cursory search of her apartment to be sure that she was, in fact, alone, she walked toward her kitchen.
Roughly ten minutes passed and Parker could hear Jamie turning on an old Ani DiFranco CD that began passive aggressively blasting loudly enough to make its point.
Parker downed the remnants of the alcohol, and finally mustered up the courage to sit down with the laptop in an effort to survey if any permanent damage had been done to her extensive work.
As she pulled the wrapped power cord off the closed top, she opened the computer screen and saw a folded sheet of white paper inside. Parker’s forehead wrinkled and an impending sense of dread filled her entire body.
It was a note. A personalized note, hand-written in carefully blocked, all capital letters, and its contents made the vodka bubble in the spots where it burned her stomach.
SORRY ABOUT YOUR FRIEND BUT MAYBE ITS FOR THE BEST. PERVERTS LIKE HIM DO NOT DESERVE TO BREATHE THE AIR OF THIS EARTH, BUT NEITHER DO YOU REALLY. YOUR COMPUTER PROVED TO CONTAIN THE MOST STIMULATING READING AND IT SHOWED ME EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW TO PROCEED. I TOOK THE LIBERTY OF DELETING MY INTERVIEW BUT I LEFT THE OTHERS. STUPID SICK FUCKS! YOU AND YOUR LITTLE PROJECT ARE EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG IN THIS WORLD AND I INTEND TO CLEANSE THE PATH FOR THE NEXT GENERATION TO COME. I TRIED TO TELL YOU HOW I FELT BUT ALL YOU CARED ABOUT WAS DATA AND RESEARCH AND YOUR QUESTIONS. ALL YOUR FUCKING QUESTIONS. YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO BUT YOU WILL NEVER FIND ME BEFORE I’VE DONE EVERYTHING THAT I HAVE TO DO. MAY YOU ROT IN HELL WITH YOUR FAGGOT FRIENDS.
Parker stared at the page for several minutes, her brain running through the countless interviews she had conducted, but she couldn’t — for the life of her — think of anyone who would have been sick enough to write something like this.
Of course, there had been those dudes who were so very deeply closeted that they’d ended their appointments abruptly. And there were those who were so much more nervous than others about submitting to the series of questions, but she felt that she had assured each and every one of them that their confidentiality would be fully maintained. There were only a few who identified themselves in the recordings, but they had been few and far between.
And none of them would do anything like this.
What did it mean? What was this dude talking about? Cleansing the world?
And how the hell did he know about Trystan?
Parker considered that momentarily, wondering who knew about the interviews, who had submitted to one, and who would have also known about Trystan’s attempted suicide.
It was too much to think about.
Besides, she was out of booze.
That’s when she called a cab.
And that’s how Parker Matheson came to be standing outside her apartment building on Prospect.
As night began creeping toward Shreveport.
And the hot, sticky rain fell from the sky.