Screwed: A Novel by Eoin Colfer




  Copyright

  This edition first published in hardcover in the United States in 2013 by

  The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.

  141 Wooster Street

  New York, NY 10012

  www.overlookpress.com

  For bulk and special sales, please contact [email protected], or write to the above address

  Copyright © 2013 by Eoin Colfer

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.

  ISBN 978-1-4683-0759-7

  Contents

  Copyright

  Also by Eoin Colfer

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Epilogue

  Also by Eoin Colfer

  Plugged

  Artemis Fowl

  Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident

  Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code

  Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception

  Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

  Benny and Omar

  Benny and Babe

  The Legend of Captain Crow’s Teeth

  The Legend of Spud Murphy

  The Legend of the Worst Boy in the World

  Airman

  Half Moon Investigations

  The Supernaturalist

  The Wishlist

  And Another Thing

  CHAPTER 1

  Cloisters

  Essex County, New Jersey

  THE GREAT ELMORE LEONARD ONCE SAID THAT YOU SHOULD never start a story with weather. That’s all well and good for Mr. Leonard to say and for all his acolytes to scribble into their moleskin notebooks, but sometimes a story starts off with weather and does not give a damn about what some legendary genre guy recommends, even if it is the big EL. So if there’s weather at the start then that’s where you better put it or the whole thing could unravel and you find yourself with the shavings of a tale swirling around your ankles and no idea how to glue them together again.

  So expect some major meteorological conditions smack bang in the middle of Chapter One, and if there were kids and animals around they’d be in here too, screw that old-timey movie-star guy with the cigar and squint eye. The story is what it is.

  And the story being what it is, let’s get to it:

  I am lying in bed with a beautiful woman watching the morning sun light up her blonde hair like some kind of electric nimbus and thinking for the umpteenth time that this is the closest to happy that I am ever likely to get and several degrees closer than I deserve after all the blood I’ve been forced to spill.

  The woman is asleep, which is frankly the best time to gaze upon her. Sofia Delano doesn’t like being stared at when she’s awake. A casual glance is okay, but after five seconds of eye contact her insecurities and phobias kick their way out of the sack and you find yourself dealing with a whole different animal, especially if she hasn’t been taking her lithium.

  Various psychoses were not part of Sofia’s nature. They were nurtured. When she was still a teenage bride, Sofia was psychologically hothoused by Carmine Delano, her abusive husband, until she began to exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia, at which point Carmine, the prince, thought to himself, Bitch be crazy, and bought himself a ticket to far away, leaving his young damaged wife to sit at home and pine. The guy hasn’t been seen since. Not a peep, not a dickey bird.

  And nobody pines like Sofia Delano. If pining was an art form, then Sofia is the Picasso of the pine. Her only distraction was tormenting the downstairs tenant, which happened to be me. Then six months ago I did her a pretty measly household service and boom she’s convinced I’m her long lost husband who hasn’t been in the picture for twenty years. The last time Sofia was truly happy was when she and Carmine first dated in the late eighties, so consequently that’s the decade Sofia’s needle got stuck in. Her Madonna getup is pretty hot, her Cyndi Lauper is stunning, but I will say her Chaka Khan needs work.

  We’ve made out a couple of times, but I can’t in all conscience take it any further than that. I know couples often pretend to be with somebody else, but there’s probably something illegal going on if one of them actually believes it.

  But kissing’s okay, right?

  And man, she can kiss. It’s like she sucks the beats right out of my heart. And those eyes? Big and blue, rimmed with way too much eyeliner. Men have climbed into hollow wooden horses for eyes like that.

  My hand grazed her boob once, but it was an accident, honest.

  I think she knows who I am sometimes. Maybe in the beginning I was Carmine, but now . . . I think there’s a glimmer.

  So if I’m so goddamn noble, how come I’m in bed with this delusional woman? First of all, screw you and your dirty mind. And secondly, I’m lying on top of the covers and Sofia is tucked in nice and safe under the duvet. This is the only time I’ve stayed over in six months because last night we split a bottle of liquor-store red that had enough tannins in it to poleax an elephant, and watched Amelie, which is possibly the best nonviolent movie I’ve ever seen.

  We laughed a lot.

  In French accents.

  I remember thinking: It could be like this all the time.

  I’ve found that Sofia’s sweet spot is meds plus two glasses of wine. Then I swim into focus and we can enjoy a movie date like two middle-agers in love.

  And I do love her. I love her like a high-school kid loves the prom queen.

  Simon Moriarty, my off-and-on shrink since the Irish army years, tells me that I am obsessed with something unobtainable and therefore forever pure. But what the hell does he know? There ain’t a guy on this planet who could lie where I’m lying and not feel his heart swell.

  And believe me, Sofia ain’t unobtainable. She’s been doing her level best to get obtained ever since we became pals. But I can’t do it and all this lying on the bed together ain’t helping.

  Sofia opens her eyes and I’m thinking, please God recognize me.

  And she says in a voice so husky it would make a cat purr, “Hey, Dan. How you doing?”

  And there it is: the perfect moment, so I snap off a blink photo before answering.

  “I’m doing real good,” I say, and it’s the truth. Any day that I ain’t Carmine is a good day for D. McEvoy.

  “Why are you out there?” she asks, trailing a finger down my face, her nail catching in my stubble. “Come in here where it’s warm.”

  I could. Why not? Consenting adults and so forth. But Sofia could flip in a heartbeat and then who would I be?

  Carmine?

  A stranger?

  And this girl doesn’t need any more trauma or mind games.

  So I say, “Hey, how about I bring you some coffee?”

  Sofia sighs. “I’m forty in a couple of months, Dan. The clock’s ticking here.”

  I try to smile but it comes off like a grimace and Sofia takes pity on me.

  “Okay, Dan. Coffee.”

  She closes her eyes and stretches, arching her back, one long leg sliding out from under the duvet.
<
br />   I think maybe I’ll have some coffee too.

  I leave propped up on her pillows with one of those cappuccinos from a sachet and her copy of Caribbean Cruising, which she’s read a hundred times even though she hasn’t left the building on more than a handful of occasions in the past twenty years. We both make a promise before I go. I pledge to come over after I’m finished at my casino to watch Manon des Sources, which is not one of my DVD favorites, and Sofia swears that she will swallow the pills I leave in a cup on her locker.

  I am optimistic that tonight could be another little slice of heaven.

  This could be beginning of something good. Sofia is getting her head right and I’m picking up a few words of French. The casino is staying afloat and no one has tried to kill me for half a year. Best of all, outside of giving a coupla drunks the bum’s rush from the club, I haven’t been forced to hurt anyone in a while.

  I could get very used to that.

  People can be content. It’s possible. I’ve seen them in parks or outside theaters. Christ, I’ve even met a few contented people personally. It could be my turn.

  Don’t get happy, I warn myself. The universe cannot suffer happiness for long, which is probably not gonna be the title of any self-help books on the shelves next Christmas.

  I haven’t walked five blocks keeping my eyes open for contented people to bolster my argument when my cell rings. I know without looking that the caller is Zebulon Kronski, one of my few friends. I know this because he has set the Miami Sound Machine’s “Dr. Beat” as his personal ring tone.

  This little detail tells you a lot about my friend Zeb. You listen to five seconds of Cuba/Florida polyphonics and without ever meeting the guy you have an epiphany. So, Zeb’s a doctor, obviously. He considers himself a player, hence the retro-cool Miami tune, and also he’s a something of a douche for going into a guy’s phone and screwing with the settings. Who likes that? A man’s phone is personal, you don’t mess around there. I never heard anybody say, Hey, you dicked around with my wallpaper. Great.

  This is all true; Zebulon Kronski is a douche cosmetic surgeon who sees himself as a player. And if we met under normal circumstances I can imagine me leaving the room with clenched fists so I wouldn’t punch his lights out, but we met when I was with the UN peacekeepers in the Lebanon during wartime and under sea-trench levels of pressure, so we’re bonded by blood and shrapnel. Sometimes having a wartime friend is the only way to make it through peacetime. The fact that we were on opposite sides in the Middle East doesn’t matter, we’re both too old to have any faith in sides. I put my faith in people nowadays. And not too many of them either.

  And technically, I wasn’t on a side. I was in the middle.

  I wait till Gloria Estefan has finished the bar then swish my iPhone.

  “Hello,” I say, adhering to the Irish maxim of not volunteering information.

  “Top of the morning to you, Sergeant,” says Dr. Zebulon Kronski, ear-shagging me with his Hollywood Irish accent.

  “Morning, Zeb,” I reply wearily and warily.

  I have an army buddy who would not even admit that it was morning over the phone in case it would help triangulate his position.

  “You been practicing that accent?” I ask him. “It’s good.”

  “Really?”

  “No, not really, you dick. That accent is so bad it’s racist.”

  This is a bit of a cheap shot as Zebulon has just begun taking acting classes and fancies himself a character actor.

  I got the quirk thing going on, he once confided after a bottle of something illegal from the Everglades that may or may not have contained Alligator penis. A little bit Jeff Goldblum and a slice of that guy Monk. Know what I mean? I once did a walk-on in CSI some-fucking-city-or-other. Director said I had an interesting face.

  Interesting face? Sing it, brother.

  Like a normal face except squashed between two sheets of plate glass. Then again, my own face ain’t nothing to write home about. I’ve had the hard-man scowl pasted on for so long that the wind changed and it stuck.

  Zeb is not impressed by my racist crack and so comes back strong, breaking some heavy news without any sugarcoating.

  “Mrs. Madden died, Dan. We are überfucked.”

  Zeb and I both appreciate the term über, so in the era of casual awesomes and total generational confusion over the terms sick, bad, wicked and radical, we reserve über for verbs that really deserve it.

  My heart stutters and the phone seems heavier than a brick. I shouldn’t have even contemplated contentment; this is what happens.

  Mrs. Madden dead? Already?

  This is not right. I don’t have any wiggle room in my life for trouble right now. My issues are packed tighter than shells in a magazine.

  She cannot be dead.

  “Bullshit,” I say, but it’s just a stall to give my heart a chance to settle back into a rhythm.

  “No bullshit, Irish,” says Zeb. “I said über. You don’t fuck with über, that’s our code.”

  Generally I would not be broken up when a lady that I did not personally know totters off her coil, even one from Ireland, but my own welfare is very dependent on Mrs. Madden being alive enough to call her son once a week.

  Here’s what it is: Mike Madden, the beloved son, is the big fish in our small pond, and by big fish I mean the most vicious sonofan-A-hole gangster in our quiet burg. Mike runs all the usuals from the Brass Ring club on Cloisters’ strip. He’s got maybe a dozen hooligans with too many weapons and too few high-school diplomas among them, all desperate to laugh at Irish Mike’s jokes and put the hurt on anyone throwing a monkey wrench in the Madden machine. It’s laughable really, this faux Celtic dick with his Oirish lilt straight outta The Quiet Man. I came across a lotta guys like him in the corps; local warlords with delusions of power, confusing brawn with brain, but they never held on to the crown for long. The next hard man was always coming down the pipe with a chip on his shoulder and an A-K under his jacket. But Mike fell into a sweet setup here in Cloisters, because it’s too minor league for any self-respecting darksider to throw any bodies at it. Mike ain’t as cash rich as other bosses, but he ain’t fighting a turf war every second week neither. Plus Mike can speechify from morning to night and no one so much as whispers, oh for fuck sake.

  Nobody but me.

  Me and Mike had a tête-à-tête last year over a little fatal friction I had with his lieutenant. Zeb was in the mix too, which rubbed all participants the wrong way. The upshot being that I was forced to ask one of my Irish army buddies to make like an armed-to-the-teeth gnome in Mrs. Madden’s garden back in Ballyvaloo, just to ensure Zeb and I kept breathing Essex County air.

  I felt a part of my soul wither when I threatened a guy’s mother. It was about as low as I’ve ever crawled but I couldn’t see any other way clear. Every day since I struck that deal I have honestly believed that part of the fallout from dealing with the devil is that you re-make yourself in his image. There was a time when threatening a guy’s mother was not on the table no matter what the circumstances, especially considering what my own mom went through.

  I would never have made good on that threat, I tell myself daily. I am not that bad.

  Maybe I can claw my way back to how I used to be. Maybe with Sofia lying beside me in bed, her hair backlit to a golden nimbus by the morning sun.

  Listen to me. I sound like Celine Dion on a boat.

  Anyhow . . .

  Irish Mike Madden was only promising not to butcher Zebulon and me so long as his mom was alive, or rather he promised to kill us just as soon as his mom passed away. The nuts and bolts aren’t important as such. Basically, now that his mom is gone, this guy Mike has Zeb and me strapped over a barrel with our pants down and half a pint of K-Y Jelly wobbling on his palm.

  Metaphorical jelly.

  I hope.

  I am in two minds about this latest development. I feel the familiar brain fatigue that comes with being tossed once more into the cauldron of c
ombat, but also I am the tiniest bit relieved that Mrs. Madden died and I didn’t have anything to do with it. At least I hope I didn’t have anything to do with it. I better call my gnome when I get a minute, because the ex-army guy I had watching Mrs. Madden is known for being a little pre-emptive. Maybe Corporal Tommy Fletcher got fed up keeping an eye out.

  I hear Zeb in my ear.

  “Yo, D-man? You passed out on the sidewalk?”

  Yo? Zeb loves his adopted culture. He called me bee-yatch last week and I had to knuckle him quite seriously on the forehead.

  “Yeah. I’m here. Just had the wind knocked out of my sails a bit with that news.”

  “Ah, Jaysus. We’re not pushin’ up the daisies just yet.”

  “So what happened to the mother? Natural causes, was it?”

  I hope to Christ it was natural causes.

  “Some of it was natural,” says Zeb, with titillating vagueness.

  I gotta admit, for a long time I thought titillating meant something else.

  “What do you mean, some if it?”

  “Well, the snow and the lightning.”

  “Go on. Tell me, I know you’re dying to.”

  “I wish you had FaceTime. This is a hard one to do justice without video.”

  Zeb is really testing me now. I shouldn’t have disrespected his acting skills.

  “Zeb. Lay it out.”

  “Lay it out? Who the fuck are you? Shaft?”

  I shout into the phone’s speaker. “What happened to the bloody mother?”

  I have lost it and so Zeb wins.

  “Calm down already, Irish. What the hell?”

  Zeb is all about the games. His favorite one is pushing my buttons, but I have some game myself. The army psychiatrist taught me a little about manipulation, which wasn’t really on the lesson plan but he thought it might come in handy seeing as I was moving to NYC.

  “Okay. I’m calm. But I gotta bolt now—meeting at the casino. Call me later with the blow by blow.”

  I can hear the scrabble as Zeb sits up in his seat.

  “Come on, Danny boy. You got time for this. Might be the last story you’ll ever hear.”

  “Tell you what, leave it on the machine and I’ll play it back later.”

 
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