From a parking lot, I was looking out my side window at the freeway overpass, the sun present yet neutral. The cars were rolling by, rearranging themselves at a monotonous pace, all their colors merging into one metallic cue of circuit tissue. It was the Starway Inn parking lot, a $40 a night, hole-in-the-wall hotel that had, miraculously, at some point been popular enough to afford this gargantuan billboard that lit indigo along the highway at night, its lettering gazing over all the passing I-80 East vehicles. I wasn’t there for the hotel, though; Ray didn’t have enough funds for that. I’m not sure where he’d been staying; I didn’t ask. All I knew was he was using the McDonald’s restroom the next building over to bathe himself in the sink. He hadn’t told me was homeless yet, but the situation was obvious.

“Oh, hey buddy,” he said, walking up the car window.

“Hey,” I responded.

“You been waiting long?”

“Not at all.”

Ray dropped his knapsack into the back of my pickup and hopped in the passenger side. We had gig work to do, making a couple extra 100 bucks a week power washing, house painting, lawncare, or roofing. The vast majority simply helping kicked-out dads move out furniture from their four- or five-bedroom homes and into storage, or, if we were lucky, another house where we’d get to charge them for handling fees. It was and had been Ray’s idea. Must have crawled into his head from all his time trolling Craigslist for hookers.

“—I couldn’t even get hard man, she was so fucking fat,” he was saying, showing me photo after photo off his phone of a nude and obese black woman.

“You said this guy lives in Portage, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Said he’s moving over to Miller from what I remember.”

Portage was, like everywhere else around here, reachable 20 minutes off the expressway—maybe 25—but it was as close to deep country as it got around here. Maybe it wasn’t out in the sticks, like say De Motte, but still essentially two-lane, 60 MPH roads surrounded by wheat fields on both sides. Two turns off the exit and down a dirt path a little ways on and we found the ranch-style home, secluded yet vast within its own private space. Unfortunately, though, Carl had beaten us there, already talking to the homeowner. Carl was our third man that we occasionally hired when we needed an extra truck. He was also a junkie.

I parked the pickup and Ray rushed out to intervene before Carl had a chance to fuck it all up. Lately, the guy had been acting as more and more of a liability, turning up increasingly fucked up at every opportunity. I mean sure, it’s not like we were much of an upgrade; being the idiots that we were, we weren’t completely clean-cut and un-scarred, without a peeking tattoo or two, but at least we tried to clean up, something that seemed impossible for Carl and his sinking jean size and body bag of a T-shirt.

“Morning!” yelled Ray. “I see you’ve met Carl.”

“Yeah—” said Carl, croaked out as all hell, his voice in a dry, scratching opiate drawl.

“Hey, yeah, nice to meet you guys. Call me Claude, and, look, I got the kids out with their mom for the rest of the day, but sometimes she cuts it short. I want to get this done as soon as possible, if you guys don’t mind.”

“No problem.”

Claude had rented his own U-Haul, which we took to packing first, followed by my truck. It looked as if wherever he was moving to, he was taking a whole lot more than simply what was in the bedroom. The work was rough and Carl kept nodding off, slumping up against the house walls and bathroom floor, and we had to send him home less than ten minutes in. There was no other choice. I’m not sure if Claude had noticed. Halfway through packing the U-Haul, we’d gotten Carl into his truck, cut him 20 bucks, and told him to get lost. It meant we would have to make one more trip back and forth to Claude’s new place in my truck. That was fine; it would be a couple extra bucks for me and Ray, plus the handling fee. Of course, when we’d told Claude about the handling fee, he’d responded by asking if we could work something out instead, saying that we could have some rugs or ottomans, a mini-fridge with booze inside, a stretch mirrors or portrait; completely random pieces of furniture. This was a haggle that tended to happen. People became more open to parting with their belongings when they were already packed up and out the way, no longer part of a home or anything personal, transient and easy to imagine without. Just a box in the back of a truck.

We’d said sure to the mini-fridge with liquor, plus 50 bucks.


The house this guy was moving to was in Miller and, from the looks of it, he wasn’t going to be staying alone. I guess that explained the entire load of belongings: dad had found a new lady. We should have figured as much. Miller wasn’t the usual type of place these middle-aged guys tended to move out into, alone. It was a cozy, beachside little town right along the shore of Lake Michigan. Nothing really looked all that fancy there, and from the looks of the roads, one would think they were nowhere special at all; just another lost little town tucked inside Indiana. Yet past a couple of railroad tracks and bumpy roads, down a dirt roadway fenced full of swamp oak and marshes, a giant, weathery coast came into view, washed-away driftwood being lapped and sprayed, sand and patch grass, giantesque, background dunes; the house itself, partially elevated half onto sand knolls and half into shore, crashing waves for backyard decor.

After two trips back and forth, Ray and I finished with the job, our last trip back arriving quite a bit before Claude’s. With no one else inside the house, we took the opportunity to look inside and see what sorts of booze the mini-fridge contained and found a chilled bottle of New Amsterdam lying to its side. We opened and poured, rinsing off two of Claude’s newspaper-wrapped glasses, walking out onto the back deck after where we drank and felt the breeze, listened to the lake’s whirling, automatic roars.

“This is something,” I said, pointing at the view.

“Man…he’s not answering his phone,” said Ray.

“You gotta get to your shift?”

“Yeah, real quick.”

“What time’s it start?”


“’Til close?”

“’Til close. You think you could drop me off?”

“Yeah, I’ll just come back for the payment after.”

We got in my truck and high-tailed it across town to Ray’s job at the Hooters in Merrillville. Ray worked the kitchen-line there, so I let him have what was left of the fifth and headed back toward Miller, hoping Claude would be back by the time by my arrival. I was determined not to have another shitshow again like the month before when we’d had to go looking for a “Kevin Ives” to get what was owed. Anyway, I got back to the house to find the driveway still empty. Pissed, I began to think maybe all my extra driving around warranted a little extra something. There wasn’t any booze left inside the mini-fridge to take and Claude didn’t appear to have anything lying around that he wouldn’t notice missing. Out of sheer frustration, I simply grabbed a bedside lamp, shoving it along the backseat of my truck.

By the time sunset came around, I had already walked the entirety of the house, wading through its soft yellow lights surrounded only by boxes full of belongings, room-to-room, up and down the stairs, wondering how visible I looked to all the others out there on the beach; the high-stretched windows seemingly providing little to no privacy with their length almost at the ceiling. At nine, all alone in that empty house, I was ready to start climbing at its walls. The sound of church bells ringing made me walk out onto the deck to investigate. There, I watched as scattered firepits lit-up, one by one, all along the shore in an eerie, flickering stream. Some sort of signal? Unlikely. But who were these people? How did they live here in their pristine housing while the city of Gary existed less than five minutes away from them in abject poverty? A cult? No, but they had their own private beach and enjoyed our low, low taxes, while the papers held reports from the coroner’s office suggesting a serial killer was on the loose. Maybe because the sheriff’s department denied it, they felt safe. Maybe because the only women missing yet had been Gary hookers, they didn’t need to care. Maybe because bodies with strangulation wounds happened all the time here, they weren’t panicking. These people, even though they were far closer to the bodies turning up inside abandoned buildings than any other town—they thought they were safe.

What would they do if they saw this house burning?

I’d join them in a heartbeat.


When Claude finally did show up, it’d been around 10:30. He had looked a mess and kept apologizing for taking so long, even going so far as to offer me a drink. He said he had no spirits at home, but knew of a place, upscale and new, that specialized in craft cocktail drinks.

“It’s just down Main Street. We don’t even have to drive.”

We walked down sand littered paths with sprouts of grass and he’d said, “No dirt here, just sand. I like that.” This was true, which meant the short walk was actually more of a short hike. One that had been rather silent and awkward, with Claude having little to anything to say. Not until he’d called me over after running into a wooded area behind some trees. He had said he wanted to show me the stars. With caution, I began to wonder if I ever even remembered passing a bar on our multiple drives over and yelled back that I had to tie my shoelaces, picking up the first rock I could find, some igneous asteroid-looking thing. Following him behind the trees, I found him standing on top a sand mound.

He told me to come closer, saying to not be afraid.

“—I won’t bite.”

Up above, he was pointing at what he’d called the little horse, a constellation of three stars.

“I can see them fine from here.”

“Suit yourself.”

At the bar, Claude wouldn’t stop talking about how handsome he thought I was. He ordered a giant blue fishbowl of a drink and wanted to know more about me, asked how old I was and if I had any plans for where I was in life. There wasn’t much I wanted to tell him, though, and I gave him only vague answers. On my phone, Ray was sending me videos of everyone in the kitchen drinking from the bottle of New Amsterdam, asking if I got the money yet. He wanted me to buy some bottles to throw a party later at the Starway.

“So you’re from the area?”

“You could say that.”

“No, college?”

“Some credits.”

“At least you’re entrepreneurial. How long have you guys been doing this?”

“Just recently.”

Claude said he’d recommend us to his friends, ordering two more fish bowls soon after. I asked him what the rush was when he hadn’t even finished his first one. He told me one was for me, the other for his daughter. He said he’d texted her to drive us back, mentioning that he hadn’t realized the walk over would be so strenuous. At that, I felt a little bad for picking up the rock and thinking him some sort of John Wayne Gacy, deciding to have a drink after all.

When Claude’s daughter finally did arrive, she seemed sort of scatterbrained. She was a type for sure, with her overgrown pixie-cut hair and randomly spaced tattoos of triangles and squares. She would start on a topic only to laugh halfway, abruptly cutting herself off, saying never mind and moving onto another subject with a lazy giggle and smile. Her name was Rebecca and she ordered us all another round, after which my lizard brain couldn’t help itself from making me peer down the sight of her low-cut blouse. Occasionally, though, I’d pay attention, realizing that her and her father’s relationship was a tad unusual: they talked about taking acid together, swimming nude while on vacation in the Red Sea, him mentioning her nipple piercings. It did not take long for our table to be patterned full of empty bottles and moisture rings.

“You guys do this often?”

“We have drinks sometimes. Lately, it’s been a bit more, ever since the split with my mom, but she was always a bitch anyway. He’s way better off with Chris.”

“—Oh, stop.”

Chris turned out to be a co-worker of Rebecca’s. The two of them were yoga instructors in the city. Currently though, Rebecca said she was taking some time off to figure things out. She’d been a gender studies major; all her friends had freaked out when they heard she was moving to Indiana with her father. Earlier in the day, Claude had taken so long to return because of a fight between him and her mother, shouts about unfulfilled promises between mother and father, her confused thirteen-year-old brother; she said it was her mother’s fault for being an uninteresting, stay-at-home spouse, that it had had nothing to do with her father being bisexual. She had talked her mouth off while her father had said nothing, eyes glazed and staring over the blue fishbowl rum, tequila, and melted ice-water.

Claude passed out in the back seat of her car on the drive back. When we got to the house, he had stumbled out. I had followed after, heading for my truck. Rebecca had watched, saying there was no way I could drive home. I got in the driver’s seat regardless. She had followed into the passenger side. I asked what she was doing. She said she wanted me to fuck her. I chuckled, she kissed me. I grabbed her. She took her top off. We struggled to get on top of each other, her hands reaching down my pants, mine up under her blouse and around her. She moaned; I squeezed and groped. I tried squeezing tighter and tighter around her. She had to tell me to stop. Hands clenched around her throat, she was gasping, trying to throw me off, the lamp I’d stolen from her father rolling out behind her. Struck upside the head, I cowered; she, running out.

What the hell, I wondered; there was blood trailing down my temple, dripping down onto a vibrating cell phone, the pixels of a text message from Carl—‘yo there’s girls’—a film of red thinning over.