23. You Falling for This?

Duke explained the basics to Doris. What the underworld had to offer. The personality and aptitude testing, the life history analysis. The underworld team. Creative, IT, marketing, sales. The dead, finding the fit between my qualities, the marketplace, the product.

“Major plays,” said Duke. “That’s what we’re talking about. Big ideas. Breakout concepts. Escape velocity stuff.”

Doris pulled her robe tight around herself again and asked, “You’re falling for this, Charles?”

“He’s considering the possibilities,” Duke said.

“I…” I said, then ran out of words.

Doris announced, “I’m going to bed.”


“My life,” I said to Duke. “It used to be simple.”

“Who wants a simple life?”

“Me. Doris. Our little place was big enough. Two people. How much do we need?”

“How much do you need? How much can you get? You keep your cart on the low road, how long you think Doris rides along?”

“She never complained.”

“Why would she bother? You ever heard about daring to dream, Fatman? As opposed to coasting along. Let’s make a little effort here, my friend. Let’s get you back in the game. You don’t like it, you can always go back to bottom feeding.”

Duke stepped over the portal threshold and stopped. “We give the crew another day at your place. Day after, eight in the morning, right here at the portal.”

He didn’t wait for an answer. Dust rose behind him as he descended the rock stairs to the underworld.


Maybe Doris was sleeping when I slipped into bed. She turned onto her side. I draped my arm over her ribs, cupped her breast in my hand. This is how I fall asleep. Usually it works.

Not tonight.

An onslaught of ideas, notions, fears: that’s how Duke left me.

Of course I didn’t trust him. No sensible person would.

Duke was the type of kid who would steal tomatoes from your garden and sell them back to you. In his adult life he made his living by muddying the difference between what happened and what might have happened. He was in the doubt business, the business of alternate realities. Now he was the apparition who (that?) was going to remake my life.

What was I thinking?

Doris muttered something in her sleep. I rearranged myself against her.

Duke’s mansion whispered, groaned.

Hours passed. I was surprised to wake up. I was surprised that I had finally slept. I was surprised to wake up in our empty bed.

I pulled on a robe, stepped into my slippers, shuffled down the stairs to the kitchen. Doris was swearing at the coffee maker. She has a tough time boiling water. Punching the buttons on the coffee maker isn’t her kind of thing.

“Let me get that, sugar.”

She slapped my hand, said something I didn’t understand.

Nothing, really. Too little sleep. No coffee. First thing in the morning.

And yet.

This is not how she behaves. This is not how we behave.

The portal to the underworld was open now. The vapors had infected us.

Tomorrow: Don’t make me put out an NUE

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