Dark Matter

Page 28

Daniela climbs out of bed and walks naked out of the room.

It takes me a minute to find my boxer shorts in the twisted-up comforter, and by the time I pull them on, Daniela is emerging from her bedroom in a terrycloth robe.

We head out into the living room.

The pounding on the door continues as Daniela approaches.

“Don’t open it,” I whisper.


As she leans into the peephole, the phone rings.

We both startle.

Daniela crosses the living room toward the cordless lying on the coffee table.

I glance through the peephole, see a man standing in the hallway, his back to the door.

He’s on a cell phone.

Daniela answers, “Hello?”

The man is dressed in black—Doc Martens, jeans, a leather jacket.

Daniela says into the phone, “Who is this?”

I move toward her and point to the door, mouthing, It’s him?

She nods.

“What does he want?”

She points at me.

Now I can hear the man’s voice coming simultaneously through the door and through the speaker on her cordless.

She says into the phone, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just me here, and I live alone, and I’m not letting a strange man into my home at two in the—”

The door explodes open, the chain snaps and flies across the room, and the man steps in raising a pistol with a long black tube screwed into the barrel.

He aims it at both of us, and as he kicks the door closed I smell old and recent cigarette smoke wafting into the loft.

“You’re here for me,” I say. “She has nothing to do with any of this.”

He’s an inch or two shorter than I am, but sturdier. His head is shaved and his eyes are gray and not so much cold as remote, as if they don’t see me as a human being, but rather as information. Ones and zeroes. The way a machine might.

My mouth has gone dry.

There’s a strange distance between what’s happening and my processing of it. A disconnect. A delay. I should do something, say something, but I feel paralyzed by the suddenness of the man’s presence.

“I’ll go with you,” I say. “Just—”

His aim shifts slightly away from me and up.

Daniela says, “Wait, no—”

She’s cut off by a burst of fire and a muted report not quite as loud as a naked gunshot.

A fine, red mist blinds me for half a second, and Daniela sits on the sofa, a hole dead center between her big, dark eyes.

I start toward her, screaming, but every molecule in my body seizes, muscles clenching uncontrollably with stunning agony, and I crash down through the coffee table, shaking and grunting in broken glass and telling myself this isn’t happening.

The smoking man lifts my useless arms behind my back and binds my wrists together cruciform with a zip tie.

Then I hear a tearing sound.

He pats a piece of duct tape over my mouth and sits behind me in the leather chair.

I’m screaming through the tape, pleading for this not to be happening, but it is, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.

I hear the man’s voice behind me—calm and occupying a higher register than I would’ve imagined.

“Hey, I’m here…No, why don’t you come around back…Exactly. Where the recycling and Dumpsters are. The back gate and rear door to the building are both open…Two should be fine. We’re in pretty good shape up here, but you know, let’s not linger…Yep…Yep…Okay, sounds good.”

The excruciating effect of what I assume was a Taser is finally relenting, but I’m too weak to move.

From my vantage point, all I can see are the lower half of Daniela’s legs. I watch a line of blood run down her right ankle, across the top of her foot, between her toes, and begin to puddle on the floor.

I hear the man’s phone buzz.

He answers, “Hey, baby…I know, I just didn’t want to wake you…Yeah, something came up…I don’t know, might be morning. How about I take you to breakfast at the Golden Apple whenever I wrap up?” He laughs. “Okay. Love you too. Sweet dreams.”

My eyes sheet over with tears.

I shout through the tape, shout until my throat burns, thinking maybe he’ll shoot me or knock me unconscious, anything to stop the exquisite pain of this moment.

But it doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

He just sits there quietly, letting me rage and scream.

Daniela sits in the bleachers under the scoreboard, above the ivy-covered outfield wall. It’s Saturday afternoon, the last home game of the regular season, and she’s with Jason and Charlie, watching the Cubs get their asses kicked in their sold-out ballpark.

The warm autumn day is cloudless.



The air redolent of—

Roasted peanuts.


Plastic cups filled to the brim with beer.

Daniela finds the roar of the crowd strangely comforting, and they’re far enough back from home plate to notice a delay between swing and bat-crack—speed of light versus speed of sound—when a player sends a pitch sailing beyond the wall.

They used to come to games when Charlie was a boy, but it’s been eons since their last visit to Wrigley Field. When Jason suggested the idea yesterday, she didn’t think Charlie would be up for it, but it must be scratching some nostalgic itch in their son’s psyche, because he actually wanted to come, and now he seems relaxed and happy. They’re all happy, a trio of near-perfect contentment in the sun, eating Chicago-style hot dogs, watching the players run around on the bright grass.

As Daniela sits wedged between the two most important men in her life, buzzed off her lukewarm beer, it occurs to her that the feel of this afternoon is somehow different. Unsure if it’s Charlie or Jason or her. Charlie is in the moment, not checking his phone every five seconds. And Jason looks as happy as she’s seen him in years. Weightless is the word that comes to mind. His smile seems wider, brighter, more freely given.

And he can’t keep his hands off her.

Then again, maybe the difference is her.

Maybe it’s this beer and the crystalline quality of the autumn light and the communal energy of the crowd.

Which is all to say maybe it’s just being alive at a baseball game on a fall day in the heart of her city.

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