An excerpt from Alex Segura’s SILENT CITY

Chapter One

The bright red numbers on the nightstand stood out in the darkness of Pete Fernandez’s bedroom. Some sunlight crept into the space between his hastily drawn blinds. 2:30 in the afternoon. Pete groaned and scanned the room with his bloodshot eyes. Clothes scattered on the floor. Mail at his feet on the bed, black messenger bag tossed near the door. He covered his eyes with his palm. The throbbing in his forehead was bad. Not as bad as earlier, at four in the morning, when he’d relived the bottle of red wine and peach schnapps shots he’d consumed over the course of a few hours in his bathroom.

 

Pete seemed to recall the bartender, Jesus, being generous last night. Most of the evening was clinked glasses, slurred conversation, and a foolish drive back home on Biscayne Boulevard to his Little Haiti apartment. His usual nighttime ritual of three glasses of water and four Advil — plus whatever seemed edible in the fridge — had done little to prevent this anguish. Pete wasn’t even sure if he’d managed to get one glass down before passing out.

 

Before he could decide whether he would get up or try to finagle an extra hour of sleep before work, Pete heard the familiar pounding on his door. It was Costello, his four-year-old black cat, alerting him that, yes, it was time for breakfast, hangover or not. Costello had become very methodical in his requests for food. Thump. Thump. Tortured meow. Thump. Thump. Questioning meow. It was cat jazz, Pete thought, and then laughed out loud. Yeah, he was still drunk.

 

His dry mouth and all-over ache made it clear to Pete that he wasn’t getting up just yet. This didn’t deter Costello, who Pete had named after Elvis — not Lou — during a particularly obsessive period that had never really disappeared. The case of records near his desk could attest to that. The only Costello albums collecting dust were recent stuff. And “Goodbye, Cruel World,” too. He leaned over, found an errant shoe, tossed it at the door. The racket stopped. For now.

 

Pete fell back into bed, trying to block out the sunlight by closing his eyes and letting his mind wander. Bits and pieces from the night before flooded back, between the throbbing of his headache and his aching body. He remembered talking to Mike Carver, one of his few remaining friends since he’d returned to Miami, after a stint as a sports reporter in New Jersey had gone up in flames, and drunkenly thanking him. For what? Pete wasn’t sure. There was a girl, too, at some point. He hadn’t gone home with her, as he was in his own apartment. Pete groaned again. Every time he awoke like this — feeling like shit, hazy on what he’d said or done the night before and usually embarrassed by what little he did remember — he’d promise himself it’d be the last time. So far that hadn’t worked. He rolled over in bed, facing the wall. He could still sneak in an hour or two of sleep before he had to head to the Miami Times newsroom. Back to the grind of his life now. Copy editing the stories he used to be tasked with writing. A paper pusher in a time when paper — and newspapers — were dying.

 

Then the phone rang.

 

Pete rolled back and reached for his cell phone, which was blaring a scratchy, digitized version of the Replacements’ “Waitress in the Sky” as its ringtone. Great song, Pete thought, but not now. The sloppy, shuffling delivery Westerberg gave the ode to flight attendants wasn’t what Pete needed. The sad, pleading lyrics only reminded Pete about how sad and pleading he’d been the night before. The alarm clock’s red numbers taunted him as he checked his phone. It was Mike. He wondered what kind of details he’d find to fill the gaping holes in the memories from last night.

 

Yo.” Pete half coughed his first word of the day.

 

You still asleep, bro?” Mike let “bro” drag out for a few extra seconds, an old college joke that wasn’t funny anymore but had become a habit. Pete could hear that Mike was on the road, probably heading back to his apartment up in Fort Lauderdale from his girlfriend Tracy’s house. Mike, like Pete, had been pretty tanked in the wee hours of the morning. Unlike Pete, though, Mike knew when to stop.

Nah, I’ve been up for a while,” Pete lied. “Have fun last night?”

 

It was good. Good to see the crew. Too many shots, though,” Mike said. “How’d you get home? You were still with that chick when I left.”

 

Which chick?” Pete asked, instantly regretting it. Shit. What chick?

 

Mike laughed. “Never mind. I didn’t know who she was. It seemed like you guys knew each other, though.”

 

Pete thought back. He remembered the girl now. Stephanie — a former co-worker from Pete’s time in Jersey. She was also friends with Emily Blanco, formerly Sprague, also formerly Pete’s fiancée. After the breakup, Emily had done a stint as a designer with the Miami Times before settling down with her new husband, Rick, down in Homestead. Pete liked to think they were friends now, in that weird, stunted way people tried to be friends with someone that broke their heart. He liked to think that, at least. Pete grimaced. Stephanie was in town covering the Miami Book Fair and just happened to be at the same joint where Mike, Pete, and a few other friends were imbibing: Kleinman’s, a narrow sports bar nestled in a half-empty condo building just a block away from the Times. Pete only got back bits and pieces of conversation, but he could see Stephanie’s face. A sad, pitiful look. Not for her, but for him. Maybe it was better that he didn’t recall what they talked about.

 

You’re lucky you just had to drive a few blocks, bro. D-U-I…” Mike sang the dreaded three letters.

 

He was right. Pete had been stupid last night, could barely remember anything after that last shot of schnapps. Not anything clear, at least. But being such a creature of habit helped. Pete could stumble home pretty capably from anywhere. Or so he told himself. What was the term for this — “Functional alcoholic”? Best not to think about that.

 

Yeah, I remember now,” Pete said. “She was a friend of Emily’s from Jersey. I don’t really remember what we talked about. I’m sure she’ll tell Emily all about how wasted her almost-husband was. Great.”

 

Eh, fuck it. I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Mike said. “Who cares what Emily or her idiot friends think?”

 

Mike was always good for this kind of support. He was a coworker and a good friend. Always loyal, always forgiving, he helped Pete come to terms with his own failings. Or at least ignore them. Pete wondered if this would all be easier if Emily had stayed in New Jersey, allowing Pete to create this idea of her in his mind as an evil person, so he would not have to cross paths with her regularly, only to be reminded of why he fell in love with her in the first place.

 

Anything going on tonight?” Pete asked, more out of habit than anything else. The last thing he wanted was another drink. But he was kidding himself if he thought he wouldn’t have one or two before the day was done.

 

You nuts? Nothing, man. I’m just going to chill at home,” Mike said. “I need to do some shit around the house.”

 

Yeah, I should do the same,” Pete said. He gave his bedroom a quick once-over. “You work tonight?”

 

Nah, I’m off. Unless Vance calls me in. That dick.” Mike laughed at his own profanity. “Alright, I’m out. I’ll talk to you later.” Click.

 

The abrupt ending to the call, much like the beginning, didn’t faze Pete. It’s how he and Mike communicated.

 

He returned to bed, eyes on the ceiling. Headache was better, Pete thought. He couldn’t help thinking of Emily, and he groaned aloud at the thought of what Stephanie — a girl he’d met once at a random dinner party — would tell her about their encounter. Knowing Emily, though, she’d never mention it to Pete. She’d made it clear that she was no longer going to try to fix him. It wasn’t her responsibility anymore.

 

After a few minutes, he dozed. In that cloud between sleep and wake, Pete found himself dreaming. He was younger, probably in high school. He was riding shotgun in his dad’s old blue Ford Fairmont, down 87th Avenue, in Westchester, the Miami suburb that young Pete had called home. He was smiling. The sun was out. The leather seats of the car felt hot on his arms and his back. His father had the oldies station on. The Beatles were playing, Pete thought. “Hey Jude”? His dad was wearing his usual short-sleeved business shirt, tie, slacks, and thick glasses. He was still working. A homicide detective for the Miami PD. He looked good, healthy. He was smiling, too. It was summer in Miami and all was good. A leggy Dominican girl crossed the street in front of them and Pete saw his father motion with his chin. “Esta rica, no?” Isn’t she lovely? Pete shrugged and looked out his passenger side window. In his dream, he wasn’t sure why he did that. His father looked away. Pete could tell his disinterest hurt his father. The dream fizzled. Pete awoke sad. His cat had gone quiet.

 

Alex Segura is a novelist, comic book writer and musician. He is the author of the best-selling and critically acclaimed ARCHIE MEETS KISS storyline and graphic novel. Alex has also written two crime novels and performs regularly in New York as part of the indie rock group Faulkner Detectives. He lives in New York with his fiancée and two cats. He is a Miami native.

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