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You walk up to me in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel.
“Excuse me,” you say. “Are you Jimmy Deveraux?”
That’s not my name, but I tell you it is. I have no idea why. It’s as if I’ve heard someone else reply – distant and dreamlike. But it’s me. I’ve said the words, without thinking. “Yes, I’m Jimmy Deveraux.”
“Thank God,” you say. “Let’s go.”
We hurry past the concierge’s station and rush through the revolving doors. My head starts to spin as soon as we step into the crisp air outside.
You ask if I’m feeling OK.
“Sure,” I say, leaning against the passenger-side window of your crimson Ford Capri.
The hotel seems to dissolve in the rearview as we pull away; once it’s gone, I can’t remember where we’ve just been.
We drive around downtown for at least 30 minutes before you ask, “Where are we going?”
I sniffle and say, “You don’t know?”
You brake a little too hard at the light. “Of course I don’t know. If I knew, why would I need you to show me the way?”
I start to panic, nearly give up the game then and there. I’m not Jimmy Deveraux; I have no idea where we’re going.
I hear myself say, “McDonald’s.”
You smile. “Perfect,” you say, tapping an index finger against your forehead. “Very smart. A public place.”
We drive some more. I don’t recognize the names of the streets or our surroundings. I thought I knew this town like the proverbial back of my hand.
“Which McDonald’s?” you ask.
Again, I nearly break down and tell you the truth: I’m not Jimmy What’s-His-Name; I don’t know why I’ve indulged in this deception.
Instead, I say, “The next one we come to.”
You frown. “We keep going straight?”
I don’t reply.
Golden Arches loom large in the grimy windshield.
“If this was a movie,” you say, “it’d have been the bus depot.” I can’t make any sense of that, and you continue, “Because of the lockers. You know.”
A few minutes later, I sit and stare out the window, watching as you leave the car and walk toward the restaurant. There’s something both familiar and alien about the way you move, though I’m sure we’ve never met.
Suddenly, I can’t remember what you look like or recall the details of your face. I can’t even remember if you were male or female.
I push open the door and start to run back in the direction we came, but you’re there beside me. “Come on,” you say. “We’ll talk inside.”
By the time we’ve finished our vanilla shakes, you’ve grown impatient, tap-tapping your fingers on the table in a steady beat.
“Is that a song?” I ask. “It sounds familiar.”
You shrug, bite into a French fry. “So – where is it?”
Of course I can’t answer; I’m not really Johnny What’s-His-Face and I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.
Apart from the bored-looking counter crew, we’re the only people in the place. The overhead fixtures flicker, like signal lamps, speaking in a code I can’t decipher.
“I understand,” you say. “You want to talk about the money.”
I nod, because it seems like the right thing to do. A uniformed teen mops the floor; foamy water sloshes in a red plastic pail.
You lean forward in the booth, almost whisper, “How about five?”
Do you mean five hundred, five thousand, five million? There’s no way to
“We agreed on four,” you say quickly. “But what the hell? You take all the risks. Why shouldn’t you make a little extra?”
And you’re tapping your fingers again. It sounds unnaturally loud: like a hammer banging against the side of my head.
“We’re agreed,” I hear you say. I nod…
And images rush through my mind. Fragments of conversations, romantic encounters, workdays in whitewashed cubicles and vacations at sun-soaked beach resorts.
Strange: All the conversations are one-sided. I’m speaking but no one replies. The stucco office parks and tropical hotels are deserted. I’m the lone employee pecking away at my keyboard; the sole vacationer, hauling my luggage up an endless spiral staircase.
The love affairs are similarly constructed: I’m caressing empty air.
I look into a mirror (at a tourist spot, after dropping my bags at the foot of the bed). The details of the room (bed, bags, night tables, closets, entrance to the bathroom, balcony windows looking out on the sea) are vividly displayed. Reversed, of course, since it’s a mirror image; still, nothing looks out of place. Except for me. I’m out place, quite literally. I cast no reflection. It’s as if I don’t exist.
“Jimmy! Hey!” You’re shouting into my ear, even though we’re standing close, almost toe-to-toe.
A rotting-meat smell stings my nose. There’s an overflowing dumpster with green slime at its base, a sickening mixture of food remnants, motor oil and Christ-knows-what. Rainbows ripple on the surface of a greasy pool. “Snap out of it!”
We’re behind the McDonald’s – a golden arch rises on the left, its lower half obscured by the roof of the restaurant.
I suppress the urge to vomit. “Sorry, I was just…”
You smile. “That’s OK. In your line of work, things must get weird sometimes. So much pressure.”
Your mood changes, eyes harden, lips quiver. “Where is it, Jim?”
Now, you’re pacing and balling your fists. “It’s not here,” you say. “What the hell’s going on?”
I finally make up mind to tell you I lied, that I’m not Jerry So-and-So.
Then you smile. “I get it,” you say. “You want to make sure I can pay.”
A thought forms in my mind and I stammer, “Ha… half now…”
“Sure,” you say. “The rest later.” You’re laughing. “Oh man, you are slick. I bet the thing’s not even here, is it?”
I shake my head as you lead me back to the Capri. Once we’re inside, you open the glove box and flip a slim manila envelope onto my lap. “That’s half,” you say. “You’ll get the rest later, plus that little bit extra we agreed on.”
I want to look in the mirror, but keep my eyes fixed on the oil-smeared pavement of the parking lot.
“I’m pretty slick, too,” you say. “I knew you couldn’t have hid it at McDonald’s.”
You gun the engine and we skid out onto the street clogged with commuters fighting to get home.
I hear myself say, “Just keep going.”
I’m facing the rearview, but my eyes are shut tight.
It feels like we’ve been driving for hundreds of miles by the time I say, “Stop!” completely at random, with no idea where we are.
I open my eyes just a little, still careful to avoid the mirror.
An urban wasteland sprawls in every direction: Dark streets dissect a plain of trash-strewn lots. They lead to the waterfront with its shuttered factories and dilapidated warehouses. A desiccated tanker lolls beside a rusted dock.
“I used to play here as a kid,” I say. But I’m speaking to fill the void – I don’t remember my childhood, or ANY of the events leading up to this moment.
You’re breathing in ragged gasps, slowly, angrily – like a radiator on the verge of collapse.
“Where is it?” you growl.
And I finally scream out, “I’m not Jackie, or Joey … or whoever you think I am! Look…”
Digging deep in my pocket, I pull out a faded plastic wallet and fumble for the driver’s license. “Here…”
I stop before handing it over. The face, while not entirely unfamiliar, is difficult to discern; the image is over-bright and murky, like an X-ray, with the lights and darks transposed. There’s a smudge where the name should be.
Tears fill my eyes and I cradle my face in my hands.
“Relax,” you say. “You’re confused and upset. That’s understandable. But … look, can you do one thing for me? Just one thing? Then we’re finished. Open your eyes. LOOK AT ME. Come on. You can do it. That’s right…”
I try to lift my head but it feels like lead, weighed down by thoughts that blaze like lightning.
“Oh God, what happens now? I look and you’re gone? I pocket the ID, staring at the empty passenger seat? Then I drive off alone? It’s all one big existential mess?! Or … you shoot me? Is that it? You shoot me?!”
“Nah.” You chuckle. “I drive us back to the hotel. We’ll play it again. I’ll be Jimmy Deveraux this time. We can even stop for some fries.”
My mouth feels gnawed-bone dry as I tap the license against the upholstery.
“It’s a game?”
You shrug. “Until it’s not.”