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Authors: Daniel Pyne

Fifty Mice: A Novel

BOOK: Fifty Mice: A Novel
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A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar

Twentynine Palms

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

A Penguin Random House Company

Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Pyne

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Blue Rider Press is a registered trademark and its colophon is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

“Bye Bye Blackbird,” copyright © 1926 (renewed) by Ray Henderson Music Company and Olde Clover Leaf Music (administered by BUG). All Rights Reserved, used by permission of Alfred Music.

ISBN 978-0-698-16870-1

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


To those who brought me along








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

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31




We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.


Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.




The cool ripple of stale oily electric onrushing air.

The thrum of the tracks.

The wan headlight slurring over the tunnel tiles.

The flickering windows of the Red Line train, a filmstrip of fleeting images, like thoughts crossing consciousness, the expectant faces of arriving passengers overlaid with the spectral reflection of travelers anxiously waiting to get started, and none of it sticking, none of it mattering. The raw unspooling of life, unexamined.

And everything about to change.

Slurring, slowing, slowing, brakes sighing. The slack clatter of the cars coming to rest at the Hollywood/Western Metro platform.

He remembers waiting, listening to Wilco on earbuds, his tie loose, his gym bag at his feet. A text message hums in from Stacy: l <3 u. And a slightly creepy emoticon he has trouble interpreting. Is it smiling, or crying? He chooses not to reply.

The Metro Rail warning tone sounds, doors hiss and split; Jay sidesteps departing passengers, bikes, backpacks, and a gelatinous man on a Hoveround, and queues with the boarding riders, making
room for a tiny old woman with too many plastic grocery bags, one of which gets snarled on the handlebars of a messenger’s bike as it wheels past her. The bag rips. Canned vegetables and Jell-O boxes and mangos spill out across the floor of the car and onto the platform.

The old woman sighs. “Oh Lordy. Crap. Crap.”

Jay stoops to help her collect her scatter before the train takes off. Fruit, dry goods, a bottle of Metamucil. He’s half in and half out of the car, stretching for a can of low-sodium soup, when the warning tone bleats, A-sharp, but the doors can’t close because Jay’s in the way.

“Clear the doors,” bargles the driver over the intercom.

“All my tapioca.”

“Hold the doors,” Jay yells. “Will somebody hold the doors?”

Rider eyes are on him, but, of course, nobody moves. The voice of the driver rumbles again gruff, inarticulate, some other kind of warning, the A-sharp bleats again. But now another rider, a woman, is helping them, and they’re going to be all right, her dark hair brushing across Jay’s face, something hard and angular under her coat thumping his hip; she collects the last of the loose groceries and hops onto the train. The doors start to close on the befuddled old lady, still just reacting to her bag breaking, and Jay has to pull her inside.

“You okay?”

The old lady just goggles at him, world rushing past her. Jay, somehow, has all her bags. He looks for the woman rider who helped him, but can’t find her in the car; he settles the old lady into the handicapped courtesy seat, putting the bags in her lap and her hands through her bag handles, securely, Mr. Chivalry, before he steps back, and realizes—

“Oh, man.”

His gym bag.

Jay has left it on the platform during the crazy rush to collect groceries.

“Dammit.” Jay stares out the window back into the tunnel
darkness as if he can still see his bag back there.
Get off, go back.

Someone asks him if he’s okay.

He turns, suddenly self-conscious, to a brunette standing next to him, and starts to explain: “My bag . . .”—he gestures, pointlessly, with his shoulders, fists shoved in his pockets, resigned— “. . . my keys and everything,” he says.

She offers no reaction.

The brunette’s got earbuds too, and thump-happy rap music leaks from them loudly enough for Jay to understand she can’t even hear him. He smiles. Her eyes cut through him, not at him: he’s not even there. He sidesteps, giving her more room, reaching for the overhead handrail to steady himself as the train picks up speed.

Looks away. Closes a shoulder. No play here.

When he glances back at her, though, indifferently, with a dull-dawning sense of recognition, wondering if she’s the one who helped him—she’s grinning right at him.


Jay’s eyes drop to his shoes, then drift up, casually assessing the whole package: pointy black pumps promising long legs and narrow hips, pale hands hooked in her jeans pockets, no rings or jewelry, chewed-down nails, the swerve of her waist, the slight sideways swell of her breasts . . . and the glimmer of a handgun tucked under the lapel of her soot-black blazer.


She’s still staring at him.

So Jay looks nervously away again, to his own slightly puzzled reflection in the subway car window. This is exactly what he was trying to explain to Stacy, earlier: the inescapability, for Jay, of the promising, the new, the next.

Packing heat.

Said brunette is behind him, swaying with the movement of the car, her eyes finding his in reflection, now. And holding his gaze. Still grinning.

She’s older than he thought. Thirty-five, forty?

But she’s not flirting with him, it’s something else.

And the train is slowing. And his gym bag is waiting, back at Hollywood and Western.

Sudden leak of fluorescent light from the Vermont/Sunset platform, rush-hour riders outside crowd toward the arriving train. A-flat warning signal, and the doors gape. Jay is jostled by an impatient passenger, starts his move to the door, but gets shoved hard—in truth spun around so he’s backpedaling—by unseen hands, and the brunette with the legs and the gun and the tailored black suit is right in front of him, smiling, and then somehow Jay’s out of the car, onto the platform, off-balance, spinning like a capstan, caught in a casual crush of commuters coming and going as the two (or are there three?) men with their hands on him steer him out of the crowd.

He says something, he’s not sure what it is, a kind of half-angry, half-panicked protest, and the brunette says, “Shhhhh.”

Jay’s jacket is yanked up over his head.

“Hey. HEY!” Now he’s shouting. He lashes out, but his arms are pinned back.

He thinks:
This isn’t happening.
He thinks:
Am I being mugged?
Nobody hits him, they just hold him.
What do they want?
His heart skips and he’s sure that he’s calling out for help, but he can’t hear his own voice from the thump of his pulse in his ears, so maybe not, and the coat tightens over his head and his arms are rendered useless by the handlers, their grip unshakable, his feet stumbling under him, and his breath coming too quickly, which doesn’t help.

He’s dizzy.

His stomach in his throat.

This can’t be happening.

What Jay sees: darkness, splinters of light, then weirdly the thousands of empty film canisters tiling the vaulted subway station ceiling as he dances beneath them, the painted pillars, the scuffed concrete platform, and scattered fragments of faces, hands, shoes, pointy black pumps.

A small syringe.

This can’t be happening.

A needle bites into his shoulder, and his arm floods warm.

A new fear grips him. He floats up, hollowed, out-of-body: on the Vermont/Sunset Metro station platform during rush hour on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday, mid-autumn, there is a moment of thrashing confusion as worried commuters dart out of the way of three unremarkable men and one unremarkable but pleasant-looking, dark-haired woman, wrestling with a fourth man who appears to have his coat upside down and tangled around his head. The man cries out, muffled, “WHAT the—wait—you—” but several people will swear, when they go home and tell their husbands or brothers or children about it, that it was just he was having some kind of seizure, and luckily there were people trying to help him who knew what to do and—

Jay’s knees buckle and blue darkness blooms inside his head and his thoughts tangle. He hears the train depart, senses the emptying of the platform from the echo of footsteps and bodies moving. If only he could run. He makes one last violent effort to get free and then the three men take his full weight as his body sags into them, and the coat comes halfway open and the pretty brunette is flashing at what remains of the worried or just curious commuters entering and leaving the platform something bronze and badgelike from the leather folding wallet that she holds high in her hand and she says something pleasant Jay can’t hear—

and then—

BOOK: Fifty Mice: A Novel
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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