Prologue: Dream of Lima
Dark orange stains covered the baseboards. The familiar pungent smell of piss blanketed the air.
Robert Gavel tried not to breathe in the smell as he tugged his blazer tighter around his shoulders in an effort to knock back a shiver. Despite the healthy temperature of seventy degrees outside, a chill permeated the condo. Passing through the living room, he rested his eyes first on the sink full of dishes in the kitchen, and then on the maggots crawling around the rim of the garbage can.
Something furry brushed against his hand and he jerked back, ready to jump out of his skin. He barely recognized Mickey. The dog was a grotesque study of emaciation. Robert gave him a pat, fingers brushing against bones that jutted against his fur. Lice were making a meal of his body, leaving behind white spots where tufts of golden fur used to be. The dog’s tail wagged though, as if everything were as it should be. Robert muttered a curse, audible only to the dog.
His pace quickened at the sight of someone asleep on the couch, but he spotted the young woman’s iconic hot pink hair peeking from under the cover, and paused. It wasn’t the young man he was looking for. Best not to wake her and risk incurring her wrath. Not yet. He tiptoed past her. The bedrooms received a frantic perusal, and finally, the bathroom, where he found his client sprawled in the bathtub. Danny Roland wore a dingy white T-shirt and a pair of black jeans. His head lolled down and then, with a start, it jerked up as if on automatic cycle, then repeated the motion. Robert hesitated before entering.
“Danny?” He knelt down and gently tapped the boy’s hand. The bathroom’s soft light highlighted his garish features. His flesh shimmered from a sheen of sweat, and his pallor resembled a color Robert would’ve called death if a pair of smoky gray eyes hadn’t opened.
“Huh?” Danny’s thin lips tried to curl into a smile. “Hey Rob, what’s up, baby?”
A lump formed in Robert’s throat. This stranger, who wore his client’s skin and had his voice, was somehow not the boy he’d grown to think affectionately of as ‘Flash’. Danny had aged three years in the two months since Robert last saw him. Half of his moustache was missing.
“You want to come out of the tub?”
“Yeah, okay.” Danny’s saucer-sized pupils darted around the room, never resting on any one thing.
Robert hoisted Danny up, allowing him to lean against his chest as Danny climbed out of the tub. He steered Danny toward the toilet. The young man’s frail body stumbled forward, nearly missing the porcelain seat. Robert put a hand on Danny’s stomach, slowing his descent. He pulled the lid down, letting him slump onto the seat.
“So what’s going on with you?” Robert asked.
“Huh?” A goofy grin slid across Danny’s face. He chuckled. “It’s good to see you. You’re one of the good ones. The best, in fact.” He wagged a finger at Robert.
Robert gave him a wry, forced smile. Gone was the boy’s spitfire swagger and quick wit. Instead, a dimwitted imposter stared at Robert, swaying to and fro like a palm tree.
“How do you feel about going to the hospital?”
“What the fuck for? I’m fine, man.” He pulled a clear tube, a lighter, and a piece of tinfoil out of his pocket and unwrapped the foil, revealing a whitish substance. Then he traced a line of fire underneath the foil with a BIC lighter. He placed his lips around a plastic tube, drawing in the wafts of smoke evaporating from the foil.
“Danny,” Robert sniffed the air, “What’s that smell?”
The boy apologized, waving the smoke out of Robert’s face.
Robert shook his head. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”
“Oh.” Danny’s face slackened. The goofy grin and dim light in his eyes departed. “That’s Emily,” he whispered.