The fifteen-minute walk to my house is surreal. Given the significant amounts of liquor I’ve consumed, I’m not all that steady on my feet. Besides, my thoughts are a train wreck.
Even if I were straight, what would a classy dame like her want with the likes of me? This whole empathy thing is just a ruse to get me to back off on my investigation. So is Chaela’s scholarship. This is hard to take. Without Amanda, I have no one in my corner. But I just know I’m right. Another triumph for the great detective.
* * *
When I reach my street, it’s lit up like daylight. My house has been on fire for some time, but the fire department is nowhere to be found. A small crowd of neighbors has gathered, laughing and joking, in the front yard. Whoever has done this has gone to considerable lengths: a clothesline stretches between two palm trees; all of my briefs and jocks hang from it like carnival flags, looking oddly effeminate. Then there’s the piece de resistance, a giant banner that spells out “FAGGOT” in gold letters that glisten in the firelight.
The roof collapses, provoking a short gasp, then a smattering of applause. After that, there’s a hush—almost a religious silence—broken only by crackling flames. As I scan the crowd to see who’s responsible, a neighbor spots me and word fans out.
A shadow moves in my direction. It’s Scavela. No surprise there. His face is furrowed with hatred, his eyes black slits, brimming with rage. I tense, ready for a fight—welcoming it, in fact. What the hell do I have to lose? I step into the street. He’s halfway across when a car races between us, horn blaring. Its headlights blind me, so it’s only when the rear door opens that I realize Louis and Amanda have followed me home.
“Get in. Now! No macho bullshit!”
Amanda’s tone brooks no refusal. I doubt I could even land a punch in my drunken state, but I sure as hell want to try. I hesitate, determined to have it out with him at last. Amanda grabs me and pulls hard. I topple onto the back seat. Scavela pulls open the other door.
Amanda yells, “Louis, get us out of here!”
There’s a squeal of rubber as the cab picks up speed. As I watch in what seems slow motion, the door knocks Scavela to the pavement, then slams shut. Amanda’s arms encircle me. I feel relief, then rage, then nausea. Her lips graze my forehead; then everything goes black.
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