"Dying to Know" by J.D. Kotzman



People die every day. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway—anything to explain why we put Lisa in the ground this morning, why a girl like her didn’t live to see her twenty-fourth birthday. I can still recall, with perfect clarity, the day we met. Before I even took my first hit of Joe, she waltzed into my office, decked out in a killer navy-blue blazer and pencil skirt, and demanded a job. We needed a copy-editor at HHQHospitals and Hospices Quarterly, to the uninitiated—so I hired her, on the spot. Ambitious, bright, and, in truth, more than a little adorable—why the fuck not? Soon enough, the answer would become apparent.


I fell for Lisa, harder than I once would have considered possible. For weeks, I got a daily high from witnessing one of her infectious grins, hearing her singsong voice, or snatching a whiff of her vanilla perfume. And when we chatted on occasion, over coffee in the break room or the odd lunch, I spun right off into the stratosphere. For the first time in years, I looked forward to trekking to work each morning. She made everything seem rosier, like that third shot of whiskey after a grueling day—only better and without the inevitable hangover. But as with any drug, a tolerance began to form, and I needed bigger and bigger doses of her to stay euphoric. I wanted more. I wanted her in my life, all parts of it.


I desired to confess that to Lisa, so much it hurt sometimes, but the moment never came. I was more than ten years her senior, not to mention a section chief and her boss, all of which complicated things. And then there was Craig ... goddamned Craig.


If I’d managed to tell Lisa how I felt, maybe her life wouldn’t have ended against the hood of a skidding Range Rover. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to see her pallid, lifeless body lying in a casket, or had to listen to her mother sobbing over an open grave. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t have brought Lisa on board in the first place. Too many maybes. So I just kept telling myself people die every day. And maybe they do, but not people like her.


***


My hands tightened on the cool porcelain, and I took another hard look in the mirror. Puffy, bloodshot eyes, I noticed, and the drab fluorescent lighting didn’t do any favors for the dark bags underneath. You look like shit, old chum. I snorted and shut my eyes, letting the soothing blackness engulf me. The faint odor of piss and Lysol hung in the air, and through the paper-thin walls, a cacophony of muffled sounds intruded on the quiet. I tried to make out each of them—rollicking voices, thumping bass, clinking of glasses against one another—until the dissonance condensed into a series of short raps against the door. Time to bugger off. A few last adjustments to my disheveled mop, then I slipped outside. My listless body ached for a drink, but I got waylaid before I could escape to the bar.


“Doug,” my captor said, patting me on the shoulder. “Thanks for meeting me. How are you holding up, buddy?”


I’d known Eric a long time, ever since our days slaving as green reporters at the Post. We hung out a lot back then, bonding, almost right away, over our mutual appreciation for single-malt Scotch and all things Tarantino. And though it never came out as anything more than a joke, we shared a closet fantasy of becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein, maybe even winning a Pulitzer. None of that happened, sad to say. Sick of snoozing through school board meetings and zoning hearings, I quit the paper within a year. Not long afterward, Eric got the sack for fabricating a source in a story he broke about a certain public official who’d allegedly pocketed kickbacks from one of the city’s contractors.


After a few months of mucking about in a pool of self-pity and Glenfiddich, I got back my footing at the magazine. As for Eric, when it came out that he’d nailed the facts in his infamous article—dirty as a Kwik Stop restroom, our building inspector—the Examiner decided to overlook the faux Deep Throat incident and offer him a new gig, plus a raise. His bylines still caught my eye from time to time, but I hadn’t seen him much of late. If memory served, we’d last breathed the same air about three years ago, on the day of his wedding, just before he and his new bride rode off into the exurban sunset.


“As well as can be expected,” I said, eying the whiskey in his hand, “under the circumstances.”


“Yes, I can imagine,” he said. “I’m sorry about ...”