POISON by Galt Niederhoffer / Thriller / Released Nov 2017 by St. Martin’s Press
The party is over, and Cass and Ryan are walking, heading to their parked car through the streets of downtown Portland. The city is in a perennial state of rainfall. It is always either about to rain or about to stop raining.
The cobblestones in the old part of town are slick, and the brick on the buildings looks mossy. Ryan walks with the halting steps of a broken robot. The car is several blocks farther, on a small side street called Cherry. The walk is challenging for Ryan given the number of drinks he has had, the wet cobblestones, and the manic energy of oncoming trick-or-treaters.
They reach the curb as the light turns red, and just as cars rush toward them, Ryan touches Cass’s back, pushing her ever so slightly into the path of oncoming traffic.
“I’m gonna have to do it this way,” he says, “because you clued into the lobster so fast.”
“Hey! What are you doing?” Cass regains balance and stumbles back to the curb. She is more shocked than scared, more confused than outraged. The push was a gentle shove, as opposed to a forceful thrust, but it was a surprise nonetheless—as was the rush of headlights speeding toward her. “What the fuck, Ryan. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Oh, Cass, you’ve always got a theory.” He says this in the usual way, his demeaning demeanor, with all the usual implication. He says this as though there are two distinct ways to push someone into traffic—one humorous and one homicidal—and that she has jumped to the wrong conclusion, disappointing him once again with her shitty sense of humor.
“Are you trying to kill me?” she says. “You’re trying to kill me.”
“Yup,” he says. “And I know exactly how I’m going to do it. I’m gonna make it look like a suicide, and everyone’s gonna believe it.” He is smiling like a mischievous child who has successfully stolen a cookie.
“Fuck you, Ryan,” Cass says. “Fuck you. That’s not funny.” Cars are rushing past them now, making the threat of the act all the more potent. Cass hurries to the car, opens the door, starts the engine. She is pulling out of their parking spot as Ryan gallops toward her, fumbles to open the passenger door, and collapses into his seat in a fit of laughter.
The car is silent as they drive home, away from the city of Portland, over Back Cove and Tukey’s Bridge, into the dewy suburbs. The only sound is Ryan’s breath. In. Out. In. Out. A request and a rejection. A threat and a promise. A death threat or a diabolical joke. A mind game or a confession? Cass watches the light recede as they approach Cumberland, holding the light in her gaze as though the city is safety and every mile she drives away, she is farther from it.