“Sponsored parties? And those are…allowed?” Even after an hour of Alex’s thorough explanation of the newest IV phenomenon, Barry had trouble wrapping his head around the idea.
“Are you kidding? They pay you to get absolutely obliterated. They’re not just allowed, my man. They’re encouraged!” Alex, frustrated that he had to spell out everything to Eva’s “brilliant” new boyfriend, tried to put things into simpler terms. “You provide the house and they throw in the alcohol, mixers, music and chicks. As long as you let them advertise and do some sort of promotion for them, you basically get hooked up with a free party.”
“They bring the girls, too?”
“Yes, Barry. Stupid drunk guys make their friends take pictures of them with girls way out of their league and, BAM! The girls are all over the internet. But more importantly, so is the logo,” Eva elaborated.
“So, this girl, the dead one. She was just a walking advertisement?”
“That’s my best guess. These girls get paid pretty well to walk around, pretending to be interested in these half-wit college boys and making sure everyone is nice and toasted. Tina at the restaurant used to work for a similar company before she started waitressing. I’ll ask her about it when I go in tonight,” Eva with her bright eyes and biting wit made a killing waiting tables downtown. Between her nosey coworkers and gossipy regulars, Eva was bound to know someone who knows something about the beaten girl.
Barry decided he wanted to learn a little more about this new breed of parties. “What did you say the address to that place, Alex?” he asked.
He made a mental note to poke around after he dropped Eva safely off at work.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you inside?’ Barry asked for the third time as Eva unfastened her seatbelt and started to open the passenger door of his aging silver Camry.
“I think I’ll be alright for about, what, twenty-five feet,” she giggled and grabbed her purse from the backseat.
“Well, call if you need anything. I’ll be back at 2 to pick you up, unless you get off early?”
“Not a chance Dan’s letting me go before last call again. Besides, I need all the cash I can get my hands on. Saving up for that rape whistle, remember?”
“That’s not funny, Eva,” Barry muttered after she slammed the door and waltzed into work. “Not even a little bit.”
“You’re late, kid,” Eva’s manager greeted her with his usual criticism as he tossed her an apron and a bar rag. “Get to it. Tina’s got the whole floor by herself and she’s about to start panicking!”
“Sir, yes sir,” she quickly clocked in, said hello to Jordy, the regular Sunday night bartender, and started picking up tables.
Tina, brisk and blonde as ever, whizzed by her and nearly sent an entire tray of pint glasses flying. 10 p.m. and the evening rush was in full swing. Eva put on her game face and prepared herself for another hectic night at the pub.
Barry stopped by his house before beginning his midnight excursion to the street of Isla Vista to grab some dinner and collect his thoughts. His roommate Logan had beat him to the kitchen and had just about finished preparing a microwavable lasagna.
“Hey, man. You want to get in on this?” Barry eyed the bubblying heap of cheese and preservatives, and though he knew his lactose intolerance would later bite him in the ass, he was too distracted to cook anything substantial for himself.
“Sure. Yeah. Thanks, I mean.”
“Yeah. Long fucking day,” the two physicists sat down on their cluttered kitchen table and Barry proceeded to fill Logan in on the cause of his angst. As they devoured the mediocre Italian food, he told him his plans for the evening, but Logan stopped him in his tracks.
“You’re insane. I mean, why not just call the cops and let them poke around these punks’ house?” Logan got up from the table and cracked open a beer for Barry and one for himself. “For such a smart guy, you’re absolutely nuts. I don’t see why you’re so interested in some unexceptional rape case.”
Though they had lived together for the last six months and worked in the same research group, Barry couldn’t find the words to answer his roommate’s inquiry. They were close, but their friendship revolved primarily around baseball, beer, and the occasional drunken, emotional rant. He could never tell Logan about Laura, his disdain for law enforcement, or the real reason he moved to California. He couldn’t tell him about the broken engagement, about the nightmares, about the crumbling of his entire existence. Not without losing it all over again.
“I’m curious, I guess,” he rinsed off his plate in the sink and took a generous swig from the IPA Logan always kept in the house, hoping he wouldn’t have to answer any more questions. “Thanks for dinner, man. I’ll be back later.”
“Don’t do anything stupid!” Logan called after Barry as he ran out the door just as abruptly as he arrived. He sighed and finished his own beer, too tired to deal with Barry’s irrationality.
“Why must all of the damn streets in IV look exactly the same?” Barry thought to himself as he trudged along what he thought was Trigo. “Fuck!” Too dark to see the street sign until it was too late, Barry realized he was on the 6700 block of Sueno. He turned around and headed towards his destination.
The night he lost Laura must have been a night very much like this, the air disturbingly still and crisp. May 14th, a month before graduation and three weeks into their engagement. Barry was working late in lab trying to squeeze in some last minute alterations to his senior project when Laura popped in to drop off some dinner and moral support. He briskly thanked her for the leftovers and told her he had a lot of work left to do but he’d call her in the morning. He brushed her off as if it was nothing, and she left sulking and resentful. He was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t even hear her scream.
When he finally got to her, it was too late. She lay whimpering in the bushes mere feet from her car, beaten within an inch of her life. Nearly naked, shivering like a dying animal, and dried blood crusted on her thighs, she let out a strangled cry when Barry reached for her.
“It’s me, sweetheart. It’s me. You’re safe, now, Laura,” but she wouldn’t be coddled, she wouldn’t be comforted, and she wouldn’t even look him in the eye. It took two female EMT’s and several police officers to calm her and hoist her into a stretcher. Barry’s guilt consumed him, but regret quickly took a backseat to anger upon listening to the law enforcement discuss Laura’s assault.
“When will these girls learn not to walk around at night by themselves?” an officer scoffed, as if it were her fault for being an easy target, as if she tempted her aggressor to take advantage of her.
They never caught the bastard that plundered his beloved. They didn’t even try, said it could have been anyone. It was too late to catch him. And what was the big deal? She was still alive, wasn’t she?
Laura recovered, physically at least. Barry did his best to support her. He stayed with her at her apartment night after night, sleeping on the couch and protecting her from the evils of the outside world. But still, she refused his touch. One night he made the fateful mistake of cuddling up next to her after she had fallen asleep. She cringed violently and, half-conscious, became hysterical.
“Don’t you fucking touch me! Don’t you ever touch me!” she leaped out of bed and locked herself in the bathroom for the rest of the night, sobbing uncontrollably. Nothing Barry could say or do would bring Laura back to him. Devastated, he broke off the engagement, declined admission to MIT, and drove cross-country to California. He left Boston, Laura, his shame, his failure, and his love forever.
Barry had worked himself into a fit of rage and his hunger for retribution dominated his thoughts. He knew intuitively this house was the source of the atrocity he witnessed earlier in the afternoon. This was the place, these were the men responsible, and they would pay for the cruelty and negligence. The mildew infested stairs creaked under his weight, but Barry finally made it to the front door of 6611 Trigo. He knocked furiously but no one answered. What was he thinking busting in on these kids like this? Kicking their asses wouldn’t bring Laura back to him nor would it revive the girl he found on the beach. But it might quiet his anger and provide him with an outlet for his unadulterated hatred.
He jiggled the doorknob and the faulty lock readily malfunctioned, practically inviting him into the dimly lit living room. He poked his head into near darkness and scanned the house quickly. “Hello? Anybody home?” No answer. He stepped into the house and noticed a business card sitting carelessly on an end table right next to the doorway.
Executive Promotions Coordinator
Barry pocketed the card, confirming the link between the girl, the company, and the residents of this house. He continued down the hallway where he noticed a beam of light emanating from a bedroom door left ajar. He peaked in and immediately noticed the stench of stale urine and human sweat. Inside the room sat a young man crumpled pitifully in the corner. Scratches covered his arms and his skin looked nearly peeled off to the bone. His eyes, hollow and crazed, were barely human. This must be the bastard that did those terrible things to her, Barry thought. A fucking tweaker, completely out of his mind, had beaten and violated that poor girl in a fit of meth-induced insanity. Barry was about to make his presence known when a firm hand on his shoulder startled him.
“Who the hell are you?” A deep voice growled from the shadows. Barry turned around and found himself nose to nose with a stout wall of a man.
“Uh, I, uh,” he fumbled. “I think I left my keys here the other night at the, uh, the party this weekend.” You idiot, he though to himself. What kind of imbecile would buy his pitiful attempt at covering his ass? Apparently, this thug didn’t need further convincing.
He loosened his grip on Barry’s shoulder. “Let me look around for you,” he flicked on the hallway light and led Barry back to the living room. In the light, he saw remnants from quite the rager. Beer cans, panties, pizza boxes, and empty bottles of Amnezia, of course.
“I’m Cameron, by the way,” the pug-nosed young man introduced himself. “You want a beer while I look around, or what?” Barry shook his head no. The last thing he was interested in was cheap beer.
“What’s…uh, what’s up with him?” Barry asked, trying not to sound invasive and overly interested.
“No clue. He’s been like that the last few days, jittery as hell and pretty much unresponsive.”
“I doubt it,” Cameron cracked a Natty Light for himself, clearly finished looking for Barry’s allegedly missing keys. “Keith had a healthy appetite for blow last quarter, but kicked it after his psychiatrist put him on Zoloft. I don’t know that he’s been using again, but I’d be pissed if he was and wasn’t sharing!”
“And you haven’t thought of taking him to the hospital?”
“He won’t go. The fucker tried to bite me the other day when I offered to take him to Student Health. I figure if he doesn’t want to go that badly, there’s no sense in forcing him. Besides, I’m sure he’ll get over it once he comes down…if he is doing coke again.” Right. You just outgrow psychosis like an old pair of jeans. Barry new something else was up, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The pieces just didn’t fit together. If it wasn’t drugs, what could make a person look and smell like that? Guilt? Murder? Barry knew the kid did it, that much was clear. It was written all over his scabby face. But what could he do? Coerce his roommate into turning him in? This oaf would rather sit in a drunken coma than talk to the cops.
Barry’s pocket vibrated and he fumbled for his cell phone. Eva, the screen flashed. “Shit, I have to get out of here,” thanking Cameron for his time, Barry scuttled off to go pick up his girlfriend.
“I can give you a lift home if you want,” Tina offered as Eva hung up her phone, frustrated that Barry didn’t pick up.
“No, it’s ok. I’m sure he’ll be here soon enough. It’s not even 1:30 yet,” the Sunday night regulars had already cleared out and the two girls were wiping off the last few dirty tables.
“Well, I’ll wait with you until he gets here. Wouldn’t want you getting killed or something like Anna.”
“Yeah. Anna MacKenzie. The girl they found at the beach today,” Tina explained. “I used to work with her when I promoted for Red Bull. We both quit around the same time and she started working for Amnezia when I got the job here at Joe’s. She hated it, or it seemed that way from what she told me.”
“Really? You mean, you knew her?”
“Oh yeah. We weren’t close or anything, but we partied together a lot. She was always bitching about how awful that job was, but she couldn’t quit because the money was too good. If you ask me, I think she was doing more that just promoting,” Tina scoffed as she reached in her apron to count out tonight’s tips.
“What are you talking about?” Eva untied her own apron and sat down on a barstool across from where Tina was organizing her money.
“Some companies have an unwritten policy about what is expected of these promotion girls. We used to get bonuses if the people throwing the party agreed to throw another one. And…well, there are certain motivational techniques that can be effective in ensuring this sort of bonus.”
“So, you girls are encouraged to what? Sleep with these guys until they agree to host another party? That’s disgusting.”
“No, it’s not quite like that. I mean, when I was working at Red Bull, we were told to “socialize” with the hosts and pay a little more attention to them and their close friends. But we were never forced to fuck any of those clowns.” Eva could see why Tina quit and moved to surprisingly less exploitive line of work as a cocktail waitress.
“God, whatever happened to Women’s Lib? What did our mother even fight for?”
“The right to saggy breasts and shitty tips,” Tina sneered as she finished counting out for the night. “Can you believe that? Only sixty measly bucks! What bullshit.”
Barry arrived at Joe’s Café just before closing time and reunited with Eva. They both briefed one another in the car ride back to Barry’s place.
“There’s something else going on, Eva. I mean, Anna could have just been going above and beyond the duties of her job and jostled the libido of a drunk, aggressive, careless SOB. But there’s something missing, something more. You should have seen him, this Keith character,” Barry cringed just thinking about that smell. “He hadn’t slept or eaten for days, but I’m sure he pissed himself a few times. He looked like an animal.”
“He is an animal! What kind of human being does that to another person?” The lowest, foulest, kind of human being, Barry thought. The kind of person that hurt Laura, the kind of selfish and desperate beast that killed Anna. The kind of person that could hurt his precious Eva.
“Stay with me tonight,” he pleaded. He needed her badly. He’s lost so much already and he couldn’t part with her, even for the night.
“Of course, B.”
They collided gracefully, flesh upon flesh, and collapsed in a heaving heap of glistening skin and rumpled sheets. She made love like a goddess and Barry held his delicate nymph close to his chest, watching over her through the night. Her vulnerability pained him, to think a man with less noble intentions than his own could take soil such overwhelming beauty. He pushed aside all thoughts of death and destruction, and for the first time all evening thought only of her and the way her gentle breath warmed his neck.
In the morning, Barry woke quietly so as not to disturb Eva, gloriously naked and still sleeping. Logan sat in the living room, mindlessly dunking a strawberry Poptart into a cup of coffee.
“Hey. How’d last night go, Sherlock?” he taunted Barry as he plopped down next to him.
“Not what I expected.”
“Did you hear? They caught the guy.”
“Yeah, I guess they got a confession out of him and everything. Apparently his roommate turned him in late last night after he attacked him with a kitchen knife,” Logan slurped up the rest of his coffee and set the empty mug down. “They think it was drug related or something.”
“No kidding,” Barry then spilled everything, even his darkest suspicions, to Logan. He showed him the business card.
“Amnezia, huh? You know, Carl, Chemistry Carl? He used to work for these guys doing product development and shit. You know, seeing how much taurine and ginseng and caffeine you can squeeze into a drink before you kill a man,” Logan joked, but a light bulb went off in Barry’s head. Of course, it was the drink. The fucking sports drink. Once again, he bolted on Logan and headed to campus to visit his chemistry guru.
He poked around the Chemistry building and paced outside Carl’s office for what seemed like hours. It was still early, but Carl was usually on campus before the crack of dawn on Monday’s to get a head start on his research before teaching snot-nosed undergrads basic OChem. He showed up soon enough and greeted Barry with a hearty hug. Carl was a hugger, and Barry ignored his latent homophobia and accepted the embrace.
“How’ve you been, bud?”
“Oh, you know. The usual,” Barry was too anxious for small talk. “Do you have a few minutes?”
“I’ve got a lecture in half an hour but I’m all yours until then,” Carl winked and invited Barry into his office. Carl was a rather successful assistant professor with a taste for expensive shoes and slightly effeminate ties. His sexuality was somewhat of an enigma, though Barry had his suspicions. “What can I do you for?”
“Do you know Gordon Kane?” Barry pulled out the disintegrating business card.
“I’ve heard of him, but I didn’t work at Amnezia long enough to get properly acquainted,” Carl took a seat at his desk and began rifling though some loose papers. “I quit after a few months.”
“Didn’t like what I was seeing. Didn’t like creating a product that could hurt people.”
Barry pressed on, sensing he was getting somewhere. “Hurt them how?”
“I saw some shit, Barry. Amnezia is marketed as a supplement so it isn’t regulated by the FDA. We could put whatever we wanted to into the beverage without any real consequences. The toxic cocktail of “supplements” mixed with alcohol, anti-depressant, or even the right neurochemistry is enough to drive somebody completely off the wall. One test group we did permanently ruined this poor guy who was taking Prozac for mild depression. He went absolutely bonkers. Violent. Impulsive. Inhuman, almost. It was scary as hell. So, I quit.”
“Just like that?”
“No, it wasn’t quite that easy. See, I was on the inside and letting me go would be too risky.”
“So, what’d they do? Swear you to secrecy?”
“In a way. I get a nice stipend from them every few months. Their way of keeping me quiet, I guess,” Carl grinned and Barry suddenly realized where he was getting the funding for his couture accessories. “Well, I’ve got a lecture to prepare for, but I hope I helped you out a little.”
“In more ways that you know,” Barry got up to leave. “Thanks, Carl.”
Keith was poisoned, clearly. Seduced by corporately encouraged flirting and poisoned by unregulated substances, he went off the handle and killed Anna. And though he could not be entirely blameless, certainly Amnezia ought to bear some of the burden for exploiting the desires and addictions of young men while objectifying women to the point of no return.
Barry went to the cops, but they proved as unhelpful as they were in Boston. Assholes. Total, incompetent, half-witted assholes. He had one person left to turn to. The elusive Gordon Kane, Executive Promotions Coordinator. That rat bastard.
His trembling fingers dialed. 893-742-6187. Three rings and a female voice answered. Gordon Kane’s personal secretary. “I’d like to speak to Mr. Kane, please.”
“If this is related to the incident regarding Anna MacKenzie, Mr. Kane and the Amnezia Corporation are under strict order not to discuss matters related to the case,” apparently, Barry wasn’t the only one who suspected the company’s involvement in the “incident”.
“No, I received his number from a friend. I’m interested in hosting a party in Isla Vista…” Barry was getting better and better and lying through his teeth, and dangerously comfortable with it.
“Please hold,” the drone of Muzak assaulted Barry’s ears, but he didn’t have to wait long.
“Mr. Kane would like to inform you that until further notice, Amnezia will no longer be sponsoring parties in your area. Thank you for calling. Goodbye.”
Barry froze in his tracks, the deafening dial tone resonating in his head and he knew. He knew no matter how hard he fought, how deeply he dug, nothing could take back what had happened to Laura. She was lost to him forever and nothing could resurrect what ought to have been buried long ago. But he could prevent it from happening again, from happening to Eva and girls like Anna. Humans do remarkably despicable things to one other without incitement. To exploit man’s tendency to violate and kill others is as unforgivable an act as the killing itself.
Barry knew he was a nobody, that he could never stop the Gordon Kanes of the world. But he knew he had to keep fighting. He had to keep trying. And more importantly, he knew he had to keep loving.