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The ambulance departs without its lights on. A white shape turning away in the darkness, not in any rush. It leaves in its place only cracked cement and the shadows of chain-link fences, black mirrors of standing water and tall alley walls.
In a window high above, a yellow glow flickers. A curtain falling back.
And then it shatters. The hairline fissures in the cement widen and split, like bones fracturing. The shadows grow, reaching into his eyes or some place behind his eyes, summoning a dark mass that swells and overtakes his vision.
The metal dumpster presses cold on his forehead. Bile burns at the back of his throat, bladed and acidic but not as sharp as it should be, because whatever’s inside him is blacker and more toxic than this.
Jimmy shudders. He crushes the back of his palm against his mouth.
It shatters—the makeshift wall he’s spent the last week building brick by desperate brick out of Old Style bottles and fake Rolexes and Kennedy half dollars. A wall of bright and shiny things that make him feel good, that make him feel like a winner, now, right now. An immediate and heady haze for him to keep adding to and adding to every time it threatens to pass. A fortress or a monument or maybe just a fuck you—look how big this really is, and look how much bigger this can get.
But now it explodes, glass bottles hitting alley bricks. The defense shatters, and the numbing haze shatters, and the drunkenness shatters—and suddenly Jimmy is burningly sober in an alley in the middle of the night, with his knees raw on the cement and the taste of bile and of some strange woman in his mouth, and this time he doesn’t have anywhere else to fall to.
He coughs and his ribs are daggers. The dark alley is the dark room of Chuck’s house, or a dark holding cell in Cook County, and every dark place is the same dark place. All the memories brought up again, like new, from bingo halls or nail salons or basement apartments. Old emotions that he’s tried for ten years to stuff down that now have nowhere deeper to hide.
Jimmy inhales. He wipes a hand down his face and then twists to look over his shoulder. The alley blinks back at him, the shallow puddles seeming to ripple with the haze of the city lights or maybe just the haze in his eyes.
He can feel the warm skin of his friend’s face against his palms, still. It feels like he’s brushing that warm skin over his own face.
“Marco,” Jimmy croaks. It’s an answer to a paramedic’s question from—from a minute ago, from ten minutes ago, an eternity. “His name’s Marco.”
And Jimmy sees it again like it’s still happening in the now-empty alleyway: the doors closing on the back of the ambulance, closing over Marco, slowly and without sound.
The church throngs with ghosts: quiet figures who move with hushed voices beneath high windows, bleeding into the aisles and exchanging murmured condolences. They glance at Jimmy from behind aging faces, sometimes with recognition in their eyes, sometimes without. Along the transepts, stained-glass windows are grimy with trails of the week’s rain.
Organ music plays on softly and the ghosts flutter, like pale moths, around the family. Marco’s sister Angie sits beside her husband. Marco’s uncle squints from behind smudged glasses that catch the church candles and remind Jimmy of flickering projector lights in an old basement, of film humming on a reel.
Marco’s mother’s eyes are the clearest of all. She looks at Jimmy as if she’s digging through his soul, a hunter in a dark forest.
It was just a heart attack, Jimmy thinks. An act of God.
(You know I’m right, I know you know I’m right—)
“Jimmy,” Marco’s mother murmurs, her hand on his elbow. “I’m so glad you could stay.”
“Hey, Mrs. Pasternak,” he manages. He feels like a kid again. He’s hungry, standing in this woman’s kitchen on a hot afternoon in July, watching her mix lemonade. His knees itch with grass stains and his t-shirt sticks to his neck.
Jimmy tugs on his rented suit. The jacket pinches his armpits.
Mrs. Pasternak is taking in the crowd, her lips pursed. “This is more than thirty people, isn’t it?” she says. “I should tell the pastor. We might not have enough food.”
Jimmy shakes his head. “It’ll be okay.”
She looks at him again. A searchlight gaze. If she finds something buried in his eyes, she doesn’t show it. She just studies him, and then her hands are cradling his and she’s pressing something into his palm.
It would’ve happened anyway, he thinks. Would’ve happened if he was alone in bed.
Jimmy opens his hand. Marco’s signet ring rests there, the gold band inlaid with black stone.
“He wants you to have that, I know he does,” Mrs. Pasternak says. This time when he looks up, she’s almost smiling. “Something to remind you of the good old days.”
And maybe now she’s thinking of summer afternoons and lemonade in her kitchen, too. Of neighbors gathering in the street and after-school detentions and disappointing grade reports. But she’s always seen more than she should, so maybe she does mean the other type of good old days: hangovers and headaches, balanced stacks of quarters and crumpled ten dollar bills.
Jimmy swallows. He slides on the ring. It’s too large for his pinky. Too big to bear, but for now he’s going to. He nods, and the rented suit is tight around his chest. “Thank you.”
Mrs. Pasternak’s gaze is like stained glass. Some old saint watching him with sunlight behind her, waiting for him to sin.
The sound of the airplane engine turns in his head like a screw, digging deeper and deeper.
Jimmy leans back against the headrest and keeps his eyes shut. He can feel, in the shifting of the seats, the woman beside him leaning over to get a glimpse of the city beneath them, the city they’re leaving behind.
It’s just a city now. Buildings and streets. All the threads of the past are gone.
He brushes his thumb over Marco’s signet ring. He’ll wear it until he arrives in Albuquerque, at least. Carry it with him to the edge of the bleached desert, and then he’ll slide this black thing off his body again and leave it behind at the gates.
The plane hums between his ears. He laces his fingers together and jiggles his knee. He can almost hear in the white noise the sound of Chuck exhaling beside him—tutting under his breath as he shoots a glance to Jimmy’s restless knee.
A chastising glance, a fond glance. And like with every other flash of recollection lately, Jimmy hunts through it for a clue that he’d missed back then—some deeper disgust hidden in Chuck’s eyes, or a strange comment, but in his memory his brother just looks the same as always. He just looks like Chuck, a saint come to rescue Jimmy from the darkness yet again.
(People don’t change. You know I’m right, I know you know—)
And now Jimmy’s flying from Chicago to Albuquerque because there’s a job waiting for him—something new: an opportunity, and he’s grabbing it.
Yesterday, Kim’s words had hummed with fondness. Partner track. Everything he’s been working for. Behind her voice, in the quiet moments, he could hear the chime of the HHM elevator going up.
His stomach had risen then, too. He remembers the smile in her words, telling him about an office in Santa Fe with his name on it. And that the Sandpiper residents had been asking about him, just like the clients whose messages still wait on his cellphone—all these folks wanting him back there, a lawyer, a partner. Davis and Main and McGill.
It’s everything he wants.
The plane hits uneven air and jolts, then settles again. On his pinky finger, the signet ring feels like it’s slipping. Jimmy twists the ring to match the sound of the plane engine, around and around and around.
A screw turning without catching.
Albuquerque greets him with indifference. The roads are long and familiar, dotted with empty lots and low buildings, and the Sandias make a gray fringe against a gray sky. Not a hellscape today, just a wide flat land, so wide and flat he feels microscopic. He drives down Central Avenue, heading east, and the buildings flicker on either side of him: old restaurants and familiar bars, parking lots and vacant motels.
The bell jingles above the salon door as he enters. Mrs. Nguyen looks up, her reading glasses perched on her nose and an accounting bible spread-eagled on the table before her. Jimmy nods to her, and he walks through the buzzing salon with his duffel bag swinging from his hand and peaceful music twinkling above him.
The phone in his office blinks a red eye steadily, watching him set down his things. When Jimmy dials the answer service, the robotic number of messages feels impossibly high—as if all the calls he didn’t get during those desperate months at the beginning of the year have ended up here, drawn by a magnet to this moment, and now, finally, he has dozens of messages waiting. Elderly folks who call him Mr. McGill and whose voices crackle with kindness.
He unplugs the jack from the wall.
His sofa-bed is still folded out from the last night he spent here. Long hours of little sleep, his skin crawling over his bones as he replayed his brother’s words and decided whether or not to take Howard’s deal. All night, changing his mind back and forth, he’d watched the golden light from the streetlamps creep over the mismatched ceiling tiles.
Now he sits again, the springs creaking. Back in the same place.
A loose coffee filter flutters down from the cabinet beside his knee. Jimmy exhales and bends to pick it up. He tucks it back into the stack that waits atop a huge, red coffee can. The most important item among smaller cans of soup and beans and whatever else he’ll choose between for a disappointing dinner later, something bland heated up in the microwave with the washing machine rattling beside him.
He unbuttons his shirt and slides Marco’s ring off his finger then sets it on the filing cabinets. The black stone gleams at him now, and Jimmy looks away. He feels empty to see it.
It’s not evening yet, but he unfolds himself above the covers and watches the yellow light vanish into the gaps of missing ceiling tiles.
Everything runs too slowly the next morning. His body is too slow, as he rolls out of bed with stiff limbs, as he pulls a crinkled suit over aching joints and bends to tug on brown socks. The clock is too slow, as if the minutes are running away from the top of the hour instead of approaching it, time drifting further and further from eleven o’clock. His coffee, too, is slow, dripping like pitch into the pot, sticking in his throat and not making it into his veins. As he walks through the chattering nail salon and out into the pale morning, he still feels like he’s stuck on the edge of sleep.
Even Jimmy’s car seems to run slower than normal. The revs struggle to keep up with his heavy foot. He takes the corners too wide and brakes for the red lights too late, and the roads seem too long and too empty, the courthouse parking lot too vacant.
The tires creak with exhaustion as he swings into an empty space. Across a side street, the courthouse watches him. A familiar sight made unfamiliar after just a week away—transformed as if he’s here late at night, as if he’s trespassing during some strange hour when he should be asleep.
He feels like he’s just going through the motions, like the real Jimmy is watching this stooped man shuffle over the cement from an audience somewhere back in a dark Cicero alleyway.
On the other side of the distant entrance doors, he knows, wait more familiar things: clerks and judges and metal detectors, Howard Hamlin and men from a white-shoe law firm up in Santa Fe. At the back of his mind, Jimmy can see the offices of these men already: gleaming and bright, with pillars and wide desks and assistants answering ringing phones. With chiming elevators that climb floor after floor carrying partners and associates and the daily mail.
Jimmy’s already put himself there, too. He’s imagined his own wide desk and his own assistant and ringing phone, and somewhere in Santa Fe he’s built for himself a bed that doesn’t fold away in an apartment that has a doorbell and running water and Kim—
Something settles over him, another slow thing, wide and heavy like a blanket. It clings to the surface of him, a second skin holding him in place. His soles stick to the cement and the back of his neck prickles with the sun.
The sun shines in his fantasy office, too, speckled beams sliding through a window. An office with a view of the mountains and an ink blotter and a desktop computer, and he imagines going to important meetings and going to company parties and then going home to Kim—
Jimmy looks up. The courthouse still waits ahead of him, unfamiliar and unrecognizable.
(People don’t change—you know I’m right, I know you know I’m right—)
He touches his thumb to the band of Marco’s ring.
He’s still wearing it, of course he’s still wearing it. He’s even wound a string around it to keep it in place, to fix it to himself tighter than before. Something of that city, after all. A new thread leading back to Cicero and Arno’s and a cold dumpster.
People don’t change, but Jimmy’s here in Albuquerque pretending it’s possible anyway. Just like he was pretending that first morning in the mailroom, getting there at the break of dawn in a scratchy shirt.
Because Chuck had said to arrive early.
Light shines through the cracks of the memory, illuminating shadows: Chuck watching Jimmy with wariness in his eyes; Chuck handing over a business card because he didn’t even trust Jimmy to remember the office address on his own. And then Chuck avoiding him for days around the cubicle-filled floors until finally oh-so-casually passing on a dinner invitation from Rebecca, as if the place on the corner of San Cristobal Road wasn’t Chuck’s, too—that enormous house with empty room after empty room while Jimmy had slept at the Ramada and dragged himself onto the bus before the sun had fully risen, and dragged himself through the LSAT two times and the bar exam three times, all because he thought it would make Chuck proud, and now here he is ten years later, standing like Chuck with short hair like Chuck and a suit and tie like Chuck—
And none of it was ever what Chuck wanted, not at all.
Jimmy curls his fingers up, as if Marco’s ring is still too loose and he has to stop it from falling. He wonders when he got so bad at figuring out what people wanted. It used to be so easy. What the judge wants, what Chuck wants, what Kim wants.
Everybody wants something, he thinks, and once you figure out what it is…
He steps forward. The sky-blue railings of the courthouse walkways are like the stairwells of HHM, and Jimmy follows them up and inside the doors. He moves through the humming metal detectors, whose electromagnetism passes over him like a curtain, and he returns his keys and his loose change to his pocket and picks up his briefcase.
He glances left, and then right—and then he sees Kim, waiting with a small group, just where she said they’d be.
She’s the first to notice him, smiling over at his arrival. “Ah—here he is,” she says, beckoning, and at the sight of her Jimmy feels the memory of a tight parking garage hug against his chest.
He lets the memory draw him closer like a rope. He doesn’t meet her eyes.
“Jimmy! Right on time,” Howard says. “Good to see you.”
“Hello, Howard,” Jimmy says, barely glancing at him either. Instead, Jimmy greets the others. There are three of them, two men and a woman. One of the men is a lot older, and taller, too, towering over even Howard. His suit hangs misshapenly on his lanky frame, and he has a messenger bag slung over one shoulder and a pair of smudged glasses on his nose. He seems more like a librarian than a lawyer—in other words, disgustingly affable, and perfect for the Sandpiper residents.
“James McGill,” Kim says, and then, regarding the tall man: “Clifford Main.”
“Just Jimmy,” Jimmy says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Clifford.”
“Likewise,” Cliff says, shaking his hand. “We know all about your work on Sandpiper.”
Jimmy chuckles effacingly. “Well, it’s a group effort,” he says. “I mean, the folks at HHM”—a skittering glance at Howard—“are just knocking it out of the park.”
“Well, we know the case wouldn’t exist without you,” Cliff says.
Jimmy manages something like a smile.
Howard’s voice is too bright again. “Once you get him on your team, you’ll know why I call him Charlie Hustle!”
The words crawl over Jimmy, leaving trails through the air—just like that morning in Howard’s sunlit office, the nickname offered as if it’s an argument against ten years of spinelessness.
Cliff doesn’t seem to notice the slime. He’s introducing the young associates beside him, but Jimmy’s gaze finally drifts to Kim instead. She’s smiling fondly—it’s too warm, it’s all too warm after that alleyway, and he tears his eyes away and greets the others.
“It’s great to meet you,” the woman, Erin, says. Her handshake is solid.
But Jimmy can still feel Kim’s smile on him, can feel the heat of it. The performance slips through his fingers and—“I hate to do this, but, um,” he starts, and then, addressing Cliff, “could I borrow Ms. Wexler for a moment?”
Cliff’s expression shifts with confusion, but he inclines his head.
Howard darts a sharp look to Kim—-and her smile is gone, now, a shadow falling over her face. As Jimmy leads her down the hall, he can feel the tension in her clicking heels beside him, and as soon as they’re out of earshot he sets his briefcase down and moves her around to stand in front of him.
He glances back. No one is looking.
Kim’s voice is low with concern: “What’s going on?”
“I just, um . . .” Jimmy clears his throat and brushes his thumb over the band of Marco’s ring, feeling the thread. “Listen, here’s the thing . . .”
She’s just staring over his shoulder, her eyes on the others down the hallway.
He pushes on anyway. “If I take this job, does that mean the two of us . . . ?” The two of us. This thing that they’ve never had enough words for, because she doesn’t want words—or maybe he doesn’t want words, he can’t remember anymore.
He can’t remember what anyone wants.
He wants Kim in that Santa Fe apartment, waking up in his bed. So he spins his hands, turning without catching. “I mean, uh—does it mean, uh—”
The gesture finally catches Kim’s gaze. “What?” she asks, her face scrunching. “What—what the hell is this?” She imitates his gesture, the wheeling hands, the same thing over and over.
If you want this, he thinks, I’ll . . . “If I take this job,” he tries again, and she nods, fierce and small. “Today, with Davis and Main . . .”
A peal of laughter, and Jimmy twists around again. Cliff and Howard are chuckling together like old friends, and maybe they are old friends, golf buddies who meet for expensive lunches in Santa Fe to wine and dine clients, or go for weekly drinks at the Hyatt bar.
When Jimmy turns back, Kim is staring at the others, too, and he inhales sharply. He gestures between them. “Does that mean that you and me—?” The words falter again, and he waves his hands, frustrated with himself, with them both, with old arguments and old kisses and a new parking-garage hug that he can still feel like a band wrapped around his chest. “Is this—is this gonna happen?”
The question leaves his body like a wave going out. He swallows and waits, then looks down.
Kim’s familiar necklace rests in the hollow of her chest. A golden point glinting in the courthouse lights. It rises and falls with her measured breaths.
If I take this job, will we be together again? Or maybe: If I take this job, will we be together for real?
When he looks back up, Kim is finally staring directly at him. The force of her sole attention trained on him like gun sights. “Jimmy,” she says, so softly it takes him to a different place, to late nights and early mornings. “I . . .” she says, then she just repeats it, “I . . .”
He knows her answer already. He shouldn’t have asked. The water rushes back into him, the tide returning, filling all the empty spaces again.
But she must see his face change because she exhales, then she shakes her head. “One thing,” she says, “has absolutely nothing to do with the other.”
—what? He blinks. The words replay in his mind. “Nothing at all?”
“No,” Kim says sharply. “Of course not. Why would it?”
Jimmy’s chest warms. Nothing to do with the other—words that bounce down the marble hallways. He feels buoyant with them, air rising through his lungs and his skin. A smile grows. “Great!” he says, and he exhales, grinning wider.
And his stupid dream from the parking lot dissolves: no more Clifford Main with his genial smile and his flanking associates, no more Howard Hamlin and his slimy nicknames, no more of this life where he’s always at least a few rungs lower than everyone around him, always being looked down on.
No more Kim waking up in his Santa Fe bed, either, but now he knows she wouldn’t have been there with him, anyway. The last thread keeping him tied to this pointless game of doing more and more—where if he just gets the right suit, or the right office, or the right client or ten clients or class action, then finally he’ll win.
He gives Kim one last grin and then picks up his briefcase and heads back to the group.
“Sorry about that,” Jimmy says as he rejoins them. “Listen, I just wanna say thank you, sincerely, for your interest in me.” A flicker of a smile. “It’s an honor to be considered, but at this time”—and he hears Kim at his shoulder, and he looks at her, and he repeats it, soft, “at this time . . .”—then he turns back to the others. “I’m gonna have to take myself out of the running. Thanks. Thank you, Howard.” He reaches for Kim but doesn’t quite touch her, because he’s already turning, already moving further away from this place.
And it might as well be Chuck behind him: Chuck in Hamlindigo blue pinstripes or a shabby messenger bag. Chuck who spent ten years pretending that he was happy about Jimmy being here, and proud, Chuck who right now sits alone across town in a dim house with rushing lanterns—as long as Hamlin has remembered the white gas, anyway, otherwise the house will just be black and cold—
—and good , Jimmy thinks, gritting his teeth. Leave him there.
This time, when he floors the accelerator out of the parking space, the tyres screech and the engine roars.
He can feel the engine rumbling in his chest even after he gets out of the car, pistons turning over as he hums lowly and pushes through the door of the Day Spa & Nail. The salon seems smaller now than earlier, bustling with clients, and Jimmy feels himself growing to fill it: he’s loud and energetic, everybody watching him.
So he gives them a show.
In his office—or whatever he’s going to call it now—he tugs off his tie and strips out of his shirt, damp with cucumber water. He tosses the dripping suit onto the sofa, making a pile of this empty costume he’s tried to wear for years.
He changes into jeans and hunts for a clean shirt then gives up, just tucking in his undershirt and buckling his belt. Marco’s ring taps against the buckle, and Jimmy’s heart taps, too—hollow and low.
A blank slate. He needs one of the patterned button-ups he wore last week, something with snaking colors and eye-catching geometric shapes. But he clears his throat and brushes a hand down his chest and then heads out again, away from the blinking red light on his old General Electric phone, and his boxes of case files and the shedded skin of James McGill, Attorney at Law.
As he re-emerges into the salon, he skids—he throws out a hand, his palm landing on the wall. The client in the nearest chair snickers at him and exchanges a look with her technician.
“This is still here?” Jimmy says, stepping around the spilled cucumber water and crossing the salon beneath more giggles.
Mrs. Nguyen just stares at him coldly, her eyebrows climbing.
Jimmy points back towards the puddle. “Clean up on aisle nine.”
Mrs. Nguyen mutters something in Vietnamese. She slides her stool back—but she just reaches for a phonebook from the side of her desk. She flicks it open and makes a show of running her perfectly manicured finger down a list.
Jimmy squints to read the entries. “Professional cleaners?”
Mrs. Nguyen taps a nail on a name, then she picks up the salon phone. She wedges the handset against her ear and dials a number slowly, each input beeping atonally. As Jimmy opens his mouth, she holds up a finger, shushing him.
“You’re calling a cleaner for this?”
She mouths, I’ll bill you .
Jimmy waves a hand. “Whatever,” he mutters, and he heads for the door. Money’s not gonna be a problem anymore, anyway. He’s got the twenty thousand from HHM, and now that he’s not trying to do things Chuck’s way, he won’t be sitting back there beside the water heater trying to wring the last eighty bucks out of some pensioner for a DNR form for hours on end.
A breeze curls across the parking lot, carrying exhaust fumes from the steady grumble of cars that cruise along Juan Tabo. Jimmy slides back into the front seat of his Esteem and slams into drive and joins them, heading north.
Away from it all. Away from the airport in the south of the city, which was the wrong place to run to, anyway, the wrong kind of escape. And that was the problem, he thinks, it wasn’t enough of an escape, it was the opposite, even. He was running deeper inside himself, then, running to some long buried place.
He needs to not be Jimmy McGill. He needs the blank smile of some clerk who doesn’t know him, and the scratch of clothes that aren’t his, and the burn of cheap liquor and bright lights that will dissolve him, ready to be reinvented again.
The resort is tucked away in the north of the city, nestled near the Sandia foothills. The last time Jimmy had come here, he was fleeing something, too—the burn of sand on his cheeks and the shattering crunch of broken legs. The bite of blades around his pinky finger, rusty edges cutting into his skin.
He touches his ring. Warm metal covers the old wound.
Albuquerque. The desert city, where every place is just a short drive from the middle of nowhere, from somewhere a flashing-eyed drug dealer can kill you and not even bury you and still nobody will ever find your corpse.
Jimmy pulls into an empty parking spot. After Tuco, this resort had seemed an oasis, with its signs boasting of mimosas and waterfalls and a lazy river. A glittering paradise that was blue blue blue. Water in excess: in tall glasses, in pools, even falling in a twinkling sheet behind the bar, as if to make sure nobody forgot that nothing could be further from the desert and the sand than this place.
But Jimmy had carried it with him that night anyway, the desert, his throat dry and cracked even as he downed whiskey after whiskey. He’d talked his way through a story about his childhood and milkshakes, trying to make himself feel innocent and unharmed and endearing before the woman who was looking at him through low eyelashes. Trying to feel normal, with his throat coarse and his head aching and the desert red like her tequila sunrise and her lipstick and her nails. And she’d had a nice smile and a great rack and she’d listened to the story, and for a second he’d thought he was gonna feel like that guy again, a winner—
In the end, he hadn’t won anything. He’d just gotten the kind of drunk that had outpaced his brain and his blood and his stomach, a drunkenness that had just kept rising and rising even after he’d stopped actually drinking. Even after he’d thrown up in the bathroom and in the dirt beside the restaurant door and almost in the cab—except he’d had nothing left to throw up, then, nothing but sand. Hot sand on his knees and his cheeks and scratching at his throat, burying him.
He wipes his forefinger and thumb over his lips and coughs.
The resort looks different now: the lights brighter, the music a little softer. Jimmy approaches the entrance, following a fence that runs along the poolside. Between thatch umbrellas, he can see the artificially blue water, where artificially tanned patrons lie on sunbeds and sip from artificially colored cocktails.
In every city, every day, he remembers, people are on vacation. People like the couple who swan through the automatic doors of the foyer, wide hats spilling over their heads and heavy bags dragging behind them. Every day there’s someone drinking a margarita in a pool.
And today it’s gonna be him.
He slips along the edge of the glittering foyer, following the smooth, sculpted walls past the reception desk and around to the hotel gift shop. A desert mural runs along one side of the place, the sky dotted with hats on hooks near the ceiling. Yellow and red New Mexico flags are everywhere: on magnets and dish towels and tote bags. At the far end of the shop, a clerk makes tidy markings on a newspaper.
Jimmy trails his fingers along a rack of shirts and draws one out. It’s linen, striped in blue and white, with an exorbitant price tag. He lets it fall back, then moves further down the row. He unhooks a pink button-up from the rack and holds it in front of his torso before a mirror.
He squints thoughtfully.
“That’s not really your color, honey.”
A woman stands in the aisle. “It washes you out,” she adds, and then she gestures for him to move and he shifts to let her by. She hums as she passes, a magenta robe swaying from her grasp.
Jimmy checks the mirror again anyway. He brushes a hand through his hair and then drapes the pink shirt over his arm, taking it with him.
The swimsuits are further down the wall, tucked away in an alcove. Jimmy rakes through the hanging swim trunks. Half a dozen different variations of the stars and stripes ripple by, and then another handful in bright yellow and red—
His cellphone rings. Jimmy digs through his jeans and checks the display. The number isn’t familiar.
He exhales, but holds the phone to his ear. “Jimmy McGill.”
A rustling sound, and then: “Is that Mr. McGill?”
He fans through the next rack of trunks. “Uh-huh.”
Jimmy slows his hand. The shorts on the rack sway slightly, settling again.
“It’s Boris Cline here, I’m one of Mr. McGill’s clients. My daughter-in-law needs to speak with him about something she’s spotted in my will—”
“Mr. Cline?” Jimmy cuts in. He remembers the man: a stooped guy with fine threads of silver hair and a couple of vintage sports cars. “Sorry, Mr. Cline, you’ll have to find someone else. I’m not a real lawyer.” He clears his throat. “I mean, I’m no longer a practicing attorney. Good luck.” He clacks the keypad cover down and shoves the cellphone back into his jeans.
Past the swimwear now. On high racks, shirts sway hypnotically, enticing him with vibrant patterns and elaborate scenes. Palm trees grow from the hem of one shirt, stark green against a neon orange sky.
His cellphone rings again. Jimmy huffs. He wrestles it out of his pocket, and his thumb is on the little red button—but then he stills. He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, then opens the cover and lifts it to his ear. “Hey, there.”
Kim’s voice is light. “Oh, is that Jimmy McGill? Usually I speak to his secretary.”
He smiles. “She’s out sick,” he says softly. “But I can take a message for her.”
“Sure,” Kim says, crisp. “Could you have her let me know what exactly her boss is thinking?”
“What . . . her boss . . . is thinking . . .” Jimmy says, slowly, as if he’s writing it down. “Mhm, got it.” He tugs on the sleeve of a shirt patterned with green diamonds. “Anything else?”
“No, that’ll cover it.”
Jimmy hums agreement again, and he lifts a shirt off the rack. Geometric lines of red and navy. “Well, her boss has just walked into the Sandia Blue, so he might be hard to get in touch with.”
Kim’s breath is close against his ear. “Just try, would you?”
“Absolutely,” he says, fake bright. He folds the geometric shirt over his arm, on top of the pink button-up. He trails his fingers over the sleeves again. Silk brushes his skin.
“Kim, I gotta go, okay?” he says quickly. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Nothing now but the hum of some distant machine, and then the trill of elevator doors. The parking garage, maybe. He imagines her there, a solitary figure in the dark.
“I mean it,” he says lowly. “We’ll talk. I do want to talk.”
“Okay, Jimmy,” Kim says, like she doesn't believe him.
“Bye,” he says. He hangs up the call. He squeezes his eyes shut again and then sighs. He’ll talk to her later. One thing, he thinks, as his fingers land on a pair of swim trunks patterned with eagles and dragons, has nothing to do with the other.
In a mirror above the rack, his eyes catch his reflection.
His face looks drawn, serious, wearing all the years that have passed since he first got to this city. It had held together with Kim for a while, then, even if they didn’t have a name for it. When they’d worked together every day. She’d been there, and he’d been there, tracing patterns on her pajamas at night as she slept at his side with the TV going in his tiny Beachcomber apartment. As he nursed fragile dreams of being a lawyer and following her ascent.
He takes the swim trunks. The dragons curl and sway, hissing.
Voices rise from the other side of the gift shop. “—absolute highway robbery!”
“Ma’am, if you just—”
Jimmy clears the end of the aisle, moving towards the till. The woman who commented on his shirt earlier is holding court in front of the cashier. Her shoulders are as tight as her bun, and the sunburned skin of her neck is stretched taut.
“—husband is in textiles,” she says, “so I know the cost of chiffon these days, and this is unacceptable.”
“Chiff-who?” the cashier drawls.
The woman waves the magenta robe. “This, this!” she says. “I think fifty sounds fair, don’t you.”
The cashier sniffs. “Listen, ma’am, the price is the price.”
She exhales sharply but opens her purse. There’s a flash of black and silver credit cards. She picks one and holds it out betweens two fingers—a black American Express card, her name glinting in embossed letters beneath the profile of a centurion.
The cashier takes it, ringing up the sale.
“And wrap it, will you? It’s a gift.” She laces her fingers over her stomach and stares out a window, then huffs. “Just send it to my room. Three-twelve.” And then, off the cashier’s non-reaction: “That’s the diamond suite.”
She nods sharply and turns on her heel, brushing past Jimmy without commenting on anything this time—though he’d have loved to learn her thoughts on the dragon-print trunks.
He catches the cashier’s eye and raises his brows.
“I’ll scan you through first,” the guy says, dumping the chiffon robe on the bench behind him.
The cashier rings up Jimmy’s new clothes, his new costume. Jimmy snags some dark sunglasses from a stand near the till, too, and then he hands over a credit card that he’s definitely not maxing out right now. By the time he’s poolside he’s already forgotten the price tags, anyway. Just another overdue bill for Mrs. Nguyen to slide beneath his door.
The changing rooms here are almost bigger than his office. He throws on his swim trunks and one of the vibrantly patterned shirts, then sits on a long wooden bench and sorts through his things. Wallet and phone and keys. A couple of blue matchbooks that he leaves in there, facedown, on the bench, before heading out into the sunlight.
In the main pool, guests drift lazily on inflatable loungers, their eyes hidden. Jimmy brings his new sunglasses down from his forehead to join them in anonymity.
The world softens, a yellowish haze, warm at the edges. Trees ripple in an unfelt wind, muted green against the amber foothills beyond. He passes the circular pool, around wait an amphitheater of orange loungers. The tiles are slick with footprints and splashed water.
Jimmy lowers himself to the edge of the smaller, snaking pool at the border of the outdoor courtyard, dangling his feet into the water. It’s cool but not cold, silky against his skin. He moves his feet and threads of lights dance through the blue, twisting over him and then vanishing, little bolts of electricity. Like lightning or electric eels.
Down the other end of the pool, a young couple laugh and splash each other. Jimmy smiles, watching them, and soon they rise from the water to join more of their friends beneath the thatch umbrellas.
A waiter heads in their direction, walking carefully with a tray of bright pink drinks. The glasses glisten with condensation like in a commercial.
“Excuse me?” Jimmy calls out. He lifts up his sunglasses and the drinks flare brighter. “What’re those drinks?”
The waiter grins. “Sanda Sunrise,” he says. “It’s basically a tequila sunrise but with watermelon liqueur.”
“Sounds great,” Jimmy says brightly, and he holds up one finger and smiles. “Just charge it to my room—I’m in 312. Compston.”
“Coming right up, Mr. Compston,” the guy says smoothly.
Jimmy grins. He brings the sunglasses down over his eyes again and leans back. The sun on his skin is a glowing weight, warm on his cheeks and his chest.
He imagines the rays snaking inside his ribs to his heart. He’s so far away from the cold dark alley, now, half a country away, and the heat presses against him, the insistent Albuquerque sun as impossible to hold back as the desert.
This is what he wants.
She’s there, across the bar, still waiting for him. A blue figure at a table near the door. Blue like the pool, like the sky. He’s changed into dry clothes, but his shoulders are still damp beneath the pink button-up he bought earlier, and his jeans stick to him. He can smell the chlorine on his skin as he inhales shallowly, catching his breath.
Not for long , she had said, there at the poolside—but she hasn’t left yet.
He crosses to Kim and she looks up from a menu. Her eyes soften.
“Pretty nice, huh?” Jimmy says, sliding into the chair opposite her.
Kim rests her chin on her hand and smiles behind her fingers.
He gestures. “I mean, not many bars have a whole waterfall.”
She murmurs, “Very classy.”
“It is, isn’t it?” he says brightly. He wipes his thumb over his mouth, then picks up a drinks menu. It’s tall and narrow and makes a barrier between them, and he reads the long list of items instead of looking at her.
Dozens of cocktails and liquor brands, but not enough. He reaches the bottom and has to start again from the top.
His drying skin itches beneath his new shirt.
Kim’s voice comes from behind the wall. “So . . . this is the new you, huh?” she asks. “Swim trunks and day drinking?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jimmy mutters. He pretends to scan the whiskeys.
“Okay,” Kim says, and then, thoughtful: “It might be tricky for anyone to get their Rascal scooter in here.”
“Oh, I’m done with that,” he says, brushing his hand over his mouth again, like he’s swiping the words away. “I quit.” He taps his thumb on the menu, marking the point. “The job, the law, all of it. No more living trusts, no more wills—hell, I’m sick of hearing about some old guy’s fifteenth grandson, anyway.”
“No, you’re not.” Her voice is so soft he almost looks up.
He sucks in a breath, still staring at where it says reposado on the white page. All the tequilas here have names that look impossible pronounce, as if you’re paying by the letter.
“Not staying on with Sandpiper, I get it.” Kim leans closer. “But what do—what do you mean ‘quit the law’?”
“I quit it.” He meets her eyes over the menu briefly then returns to the tequila list. “Simple as that.”
“Oh, well, thanks for explaining, Jimmy, it’s super clear now—”
Jimmy twists away from her, flagging the nearest waiter. “Hey, buddy?” he calls. He needs another drink, he needs eight more drinks. He points to the last tequila on the menu as the guy approaches, fingertip on the price. “Is that a misprint right there? It’s gotta be, right?”
“The Zafiro Añejo? That’s correct, actually.” The waiter gives a soft chuckle and adds, “Believe it or not.”
“Holy shit,” Jimmy says. “A fifty dollar shot of tequila? Is it worth it?”
The waiter smiles. “Apparently,” he says warmly. “I mean, it’s kind of a personal choice kind of thing.”
“Well, I can’t die without trying a fifty dollar shot of tequila. So, uh, two”—Jimmy glances at Kim, who’s staring at him, her focus unchanged, but he doesn’t falter—“ dos , neat, and we can charge that to the room, can’t we—”
“No,” Kim says. “We can’t.” She smiles but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “I am paying.”
Jimmy puts the menu down as she hunts through her purse.
“And he will be having a shot of your well brand, and I’ll have a glass of your house red,” Kim says, sliding out her credit card. Jimmy lifts a hand to interject, but the waiter is already listing wines in the same easygoing voice as earlier, unflapped by their back and forth. “Whatever, dealer’s choice,” Kim says, as the waiter ends the list. “Something with alcohol.”
“You got it,” the water says, moving smoothly away.
Kim watches him leave, waiting until he’s well clear of the table, and then she cuts her gaze to Jimmy. She spreads her hands out, palm up, over the table.
He just raises his eyebrows.
“Jimmy.” His name has sharp edges. There’s no menu between them now, no wall. Only the open table. And she says, softer, “Did something happen in Cicero?”
He sees alley lights and empty eyes. “Why did something have to happen in Cicero?”
“Because!” Kim says, leaning closer again. “When I talked to you about Davis and Main, you were ready to take the job. Now you’re back and you’re suddenly quitting the law? Cheating hotels out of expensive liquor? Wearing a weird . . . pinky ring . . .” She grips his finger, turning the ring under the light. “What—are you in the mafia now?”
The black stone glints and Jimmy tugs his hand free, hiding it and the ring under the table. He can still feel her fingertips on his skin, a ghost of pressure, but he curls his palm over his left knee instead, rubbing his thumb against the denim.
Kim’s voice is lower, now: “Asking if we have a future . . .” She chuckles strangely, her eyes wide and blue. “I mean, where did that come from?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy murmurs, just as soft. “I just—”
Her eyebrows rise, waiting.
He’d been wrong about everyone else and he was wrong about what she wanted, too. He shakes his head. “Look, Cicero has nothing to do with it. It’s my whole life, or my life since Chuck made me come to Albuquerque.”
Kim’s forehead furrows.
“Ever since I got here, everything I’ve done is try to make Chuck happy. Bend over backwards to please Chuck.” Jimmy jabs the side of his palm into the table, and he remembers Chuck alone upstairs at his own birthday; and Chuck on a hospital bench with empty eyes; and Chuck catatonic in the passenger seat of Jimmy’s car—and Jimmy cuts his hand through the air like a blade, severing the list. “No more.”
But Kim throws his words back at him anyway. “You quitting the law, isn’t that exactly what Chuck wants?”
Jimmy tosses his palms up. “Who cares! This is for me ,” he spits. “Okay?!”
She stares at him flatly.
“I got into the law for all the wrong reasons.” He gestures the place inside his chest, the unchanging dark place. “I’m trusting my instincts; I think that my talents are better spent elsewhere.”
“Where?” Kim asks. “Floating in somebody else’s pool?” She scoffs.
Something crawls around his heart and he exhales.
Kim leans forward, trying to trap him in her gaze. “Jimmy, you’re a great lawyer ,” she says, landing hard on the final word. It doesn’t feel like a compliment. “Why give that up?”
A great lawyer, like it’s the only thing that matters. “I’m not saying it didn’t have its moments,” Jimmy relents. “But the stuff I liked about it, selling people, convincing people, I don’t have to be a lawyer to do that.”
She just stares at him, tying him down.
“Besides,” he murmurs, “people tell me how they see me, and it’s not”—gas lanterns hiss in a dim room—“as a lawyer .”
“All right!” The waiter’s voice cuts in and Jimmy claps. A punctuation mark. Nothing more to say as the waiter sets their drinks on the table, golden and deep red under the bar lights.
Jimmy squeezes the wedge of lime into his tequila. The flesh slides beneath his thumbnail. Kim is quiet now, signing the bill, and he dunks the mangled fruit back in the tequila and licks his fingers clean.
Across the bar, filling their new silence, a businessman yammers loudly into a cellphone earpiece. Something about shorting stocks. He looks like one of the background assholes in Wall Street , and Jimmy knows this guy stares at himself in the mirror every morning and sees Charlie Sheen. Probably has ‘Greed is good’ written above his vanity, Jimmy thinks, as he sips his tequila.
The well brand burns at the back of his throat.
“Okay, so?” Kim’s voice cuts back in. “If you’re not gonna be lawyer, then what? Float around and wait for your Sandpiper money to roll in? That could take years.”
He shakes his head. “Sandpiper has no bearing on this at all.”
Kim just shrugs. “Okay, then,” she says crisply, building a stack of their menus. Making order between them. “What’s the plan?”
He shrugs back. “To be open to the universe!”
“Okay, so no plan.” Her jaw is tight. “Just walk the Earth, like Jules at the end of Pulp Fiction ?”
“Look—” Jimmy starts, and he hates how little he’s thought about this, here under Kim’s scrutiny. He huffs. “Whatever the universe presents, whatever opportunity arises, I will take it!”
“Whatever opportunity? Wasn’t Davis and Main an opportunity?” Her voice climbs. “It’s a great opportunity, and you’re walking away from it.”
Jimmy digs his fingertips into his knees. What do you care, anyway, he thinks. If that’s not why we’re not together, what do you care? He shakes his head, over and over.
Kim presses harder. “Shouldn’t you at least try the job before you say no?”
“And waste everyone’s time including my own?” He sighs. “Kim, I appreciate your concern, but it’s not for me. I don’t want it.” He catches her gaze now. And you don’t want it either, he thinks. Right?
But Kim just leans forward again. “Jimmy, do you remember how long you studied for that bar? How hard you worked?”
Her words want to pull something from him: memories of late nights in the mailroom, and late nights on long highways, and even later nights in his old Beachcomber apartment, back when Kim would drag him from a tangled nest of notes and put a beer in his hand. He remembers Kim’s bar outlines, and her outline for her outlines. Binders filled with tidy writing and tidier color coding. He remembers two-for-one burgers at Flying Star, his brain wrung out like a damp sponge after the second day of the bar exam—and he’s shaking his head, trying to stop the flood of moments—
“All that effort . . .” Kim murmurs. “You’re just gonna toss it away?”
The words carve through his skin. That’s not fair. Tossing it away would’ve been staying in the mailroom, tossing it away would’ve been flying back to Cicero ten years ago, not this. This is going all-in again and again and still losing, and he jabs his finger forward. “That’s the sunk cost fallacy.”
“The fallacy of sunk cost,” he says, and Kim’s face shifts, hearing him. “It’s what gamblers do, they throw good money after bad, thinking they can turn their luck around—it’s like, I’ve already spent this much money, or time, or whatever, I gotta keep going!” He gestures wildly.
Kim’s eyes darken.
“No. There’s no reward at the end of this game.” Jimmy downs more of the tequila, sharp and acidic.
But still Kim leans closer. “You are making a mistake.” And then, quieter, almost dismissive: “I know you’re making a mistake.”
He stiffens. “I’ve been doing the ‘right’ thing for all these years now, and where has it gotten me?” A nail salon office and a foldout sofa and a brother who hates him. He stabs his hand forward again. “Nowhere.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t—” Kim cuts herself off. Her smile, the end of another dismissive laugh, falters and then drops.
She stares at him like she’s daring him to do something, to see her. Her gaze feels like a hand on his skin. It feels like her palm smoothing circles over his heart two years ago—and five years ago, and ten years ago.
He’s frozen, stuck there as if she’s holding him down, willing him to repeat himself. To tell her again that this is all nothing and nowhere.
But then she’s all professional, nodding crisply. “I don’t get it, I just don’t get it—”
“It’s what’s right for me ,” Jimmy says, soft. The last words he’s got. He widens his eyes as she stares back at him.
It’s the point, the only point. This is what he wants—even if those exact words ring in his memory, so familiar. She’s probably thinking that he’s said the same thing to her about law school and the LSAT and everything else, but he doesn’t care. He never wanted the law, he wanted her and he wanted his brother, and he’s ended up with nothing. Just empty alleys and a too-big signet ring.
Silence drifts between them again, filling in all the empty spaces like water. He downs more tequila and it catches in his throat.
Across the bar, the stock broker is still running his mouth, desperate for the entire place to know about some million dollar deal. Shitting gold bricks, he says to the dickhead on the other end of the call. A golden god.
Putting on a show, then, Jimmy thinks. Drinking at mid-afternoon on a Thursday. Like maybe this guy’s had to escape something miserable in the desert city, too, and he’s come here to feel good, to feel big, to feel like a winner.
Kim twists her hands together. Her mouth moves slightly like she’s rehearsing something, like she’s going over an argument. Ten years ago she would have been running through contract law precedents before a quiz.
Jimmy swallows the last of his tequila, his lips tingling. He taps the base of the glass on the table. He can’t feel it at all yet. He can’t feel the Sandia Sunrise, either, though he can still taste it, a hint of fake watermelon lingering on his tongue.
He can just feel the emptiness between them, the ringing silence that spreads across the bar.
Even the broker quietens now, too. He wraps up his conversation and returns to his whiskey. The earpiece blinks on his ear, waiting for another call that doesn’t come. Waiting to put on the next show, the next reason to feel like a big man in front of a bunch of vacationers.
What had he called himself? Midas. A golden god. Sitting there at a bar in Albuquerque like a gift sent down to Earth.
A gift sent down to Earth just for Jimmy.
When Jimmy looks back across the table, Kim’s face hasn’t changed at all. He jerks his head sideways. “Come with me.”
She frowns. “What?”
“Just, come on, trust me,” he says, sliding out of his seat.
Her eyes narrow. “What are you gonna do?”
“You wanna understand what I’m talking about?” Jimmy says, and then, closer, almost under his breath: “Follow my lead.” He moves away, walking down towards the broker, who’s smirking at his whiskey like he’s just fleeced it out of another thousand bucks.
At the corner of the bar, Jimmy turns back.
Kim’s still at their table, but, as he watches her, she slides to her feet and follows.
Jimmy doesn’t let her catch up. He closes the remaining distance to the stock trader. Just as the guy goes to take another sip, his back to the room—“Hey, buddy?” Jimmy says loudly. “Could you settle a bet for us?”
The guy turns. He’s younger up close, round faced and clean shaven. “A what?”
“Uh, sorry, I don’t want to make it sound like I was eavesdropping, but I kinda was,” Jimmy says, grimacing. “We heard you talking about stocks?”
The guy’s mouth is hanging open. “Uh-huh.”
“Yeah, so, a question,” Jimmy says, and he hears Kim’s footsteps arriving behind him. “If you could settle a debate between me and”—he turns, hand out, to where Kim’s hovering at the corner of the bar, purse hanging from both hands—“uh, my sister.”
Kim shakes her head microscopically. Jimmy can almost hear his name in the gesture, but she knows enough not to use it. She says, “You know what? We probably shouldn’t even bother this man—”
“I wouldn’t normally do this, right?” Jimmy says. “But we need an expert, and this guy sounds like he knows his stuff.” He tries to keep the smile off his face as he turns back to the broker.
The guy shrugs. “Yeah, go.”
“Okay! Here’s the question.” Jimmy inhales. His arms move, almost on their own, winding up to the words, and he steps out before he knows where he’s gonna land. “Uh, when it comes to the stock market, is there, like, a financial limit to how much a person’s allowed to invest?”
Jimmy spreads his hands then brings them together again. He can feel Kim at his shoulder, silent and observant. Come on . . .
“No,” the guy says incredulously. “No limit.”
“Knew it!” Jimmy cries. “That—oh, even if it’s an inheritance, y’know, with like inheritance taxes and whatnot?”
“No,” the broker says. “Same.”
“That . . . oh, fantastic, thank you, buddy!” Jimmy presses his palms together, and then—“See!?” he says, turning to Kim. “No limit! Told you we could invest it all.” He lets the words hang there for a split second, just long enough, before he moves over to her. She’s still studying him like at the table, through shadowed eyes, but he keeps up the patter: “And it’s the smart move, too. Sticking it all in the bank? No—”
The guy’s voice trails after them: “Um—”
Jimmy almost grins, almost, before glancing back.
“Yeah, you can invest all your money,” the broker says, “just make sure you diversify.”
“Yeah! Diversify.” Jimmy clicks his teeth and points, and then he returns to Kim, touching her shoulder for half a second—and then back again: “Hey, um . . .” He frowns. “What do you mean ‘diversify’?”
And the guy takes the bait again. He talks slower as he explains the term, like he’s speaking to a kid, comparing it to putting eggs in baskets, but he’s already turning his body to face Jimmy, already leaning closer on his stool. “Now, if I had an idea of the kind of money we’re talking about, ballpark, I could give you examples of smart diversifications.”
Not bad, Jimmy thinks. He glances sideways.
Kim watches him unchangingly. He can feel her staring at him even after he looks back at the stock trader, her gaze a pressure on his skin.
“Look,” Jimmy murmurs, moving away from Kim again, another step in the dance. “An uncle on our father’s side recently passed, and he left us somewhere in the neighborhood of”—a whisper now—“one point four million.”
The guy’s expression barely flickers.
“And I don’t mean to be greedy,” Jimmy says, blowing past the moment like it doesn’t matter, as the stock trader remains frozen, “but I think if we invest it smart now, we could double it, triple it . . . We could quadruple the whole inheritance! Right?”
The broker nods slowly. “My opinion?” he says, recovering. “Fortune favors the bold, man.”
And Jimmy lets the grin come this time. When he turns back, Kim’s not smiling—and that works, he thinks, this works with her as the unimpressed one. She doesn’t even need to know the game for this to work.
Jimmy lets the stock broker dangle for another minute or so, acting first reluctant and then cocky and then finally impressed, as the wannabe Charlie Sheen in his boring suit talks about catching lightning in a bottle and printing money as fast as a machine.
“A money-printing machine!” Jimmy echoes, raising his eyebrows at Kim and trying to sound like a guy who’s never used a Xerox 6500 color copier.
“Listen—” The broker stands now. He’s all in. He gestures down the bar. “There’s a little booth over here, there’s some privacy. We can talk. No obligations. We can just . . . rap about this a little bit.”
Jimmy shrugs. “I guess.” He turns. “What do you say, sis? Can we just talk?”
Kim’s jaw is locked, her eyes trained on his. She’s gonna tell him to call it off, to go back to their own table and explain to her what he really thinks he’s going to do with his life here. A muscle flutters in her cheek. She still hasn’t even glanced at the stock broker.
She’s just carving pieces off Jimmy, like waves against sand.
Behind the bar, the waterfall continues. Jimmy can hear it running over on itself, over and over—
“Lead the way,” Kim says, gesturing onwards.
Jimmy lets out his breath. He doesn’t dare look back at her. He just follows the broker through the bar, climbing a couple of steps to a raised section that hosts a line of curving booths patterned with rosettes. Jimmy slides into a seat, the cushions sinking deeply beneath him.
The broker settles opposite him and holds out a hand. “I’m Ken, by the way.”
“Viktor,” Jimmy says, and then, because people always trust oddly specific things, he adds: “With a ‘k’.”
Ken repeats it back to him before looking over at Kim, who still stands a couple of feet away, purse in her hands. “And this lovely lady is . . . ?”
Jimmy’s heart hammers. The music rises, dissonant jazz.
Kim opens her mouth and closes it, and he thinks he should’ve introduced her, too, because—“It’s Giselle,” she says, smoothly. “Giselle St. Claire.”
Jimmy closes his mouth. Kim shakes the broker’s hand and then turns, her eyes meeting Jimmy’s.
A spark jolts through him. He swallows tightly and nods next to him, and she slides into the booth, slotting into the space beneath his arm. The too-soft cushions sink down even further, dragging him closer.
“Viktor and Giselle . . .” Ken is saying. “Exotic names.”
“They’re Dutch,” Jimmy explains quickly.
“Well—Boer, to be precise.” The words are addressed to Ken, but Kim’s not looking at the broker. She’s still studying Jimmy. Her eyes flick down to his lips for a split second, and then she finally turns as she continues: “Our father’s side of the family is from South Africa, which is where Uncle . . . Humphrey passed away.”
Jimmy feels drawn along on a current. It’s the little details, always the little details—the uncle on the father’s side. An easy thing to miss, and the Wall Street douchebag probably wouldn’t have even clocked it if Kim had misremembered. But now Jimmy can see the old geezer, a perfect image. Wrinkles on wrinkles beneath a safari hat. A glass of whiskey and a linen suit, like John Huston filming The African Queen , or some old trophy hunter with a couple million in gold from poached ivory.
Ken is talking again, words that Jimmy only hears retroactively—something about beautiful women from South Africa.
“Oh, well—” Kim says, just effacing enough that the guy’s absolutely gonna take it as encouragement. “I’ve never actually been, but I hope to go some day.”
She glances at Jimmy again, and there’s another jolt through his chest, blue and electric.
“Tell you what,” Ken says, “by the time I’m done with you two? You might be taking your own private jet.”
“Nice!” Jimmy says, tapping Kim on the back—warm through her blouse—then returning his hand to the top of the booth.
Douchebag Ken flags down the same waiter as served them earlier, and Kim settles a little further back in the seat, a little closer to Jimmy. He can almost feel the warmth of her, still, in his dangling fingertips.
“We are sitting here now,” Ken says to the waiter, raising his eyebrows impatiently. “So we could use a wine list, if you get a chance.”
Kim shifts slightly. Jimmy feels her movement in his chest, tightening like a bowstring drawing back.
And feels as if they’re her words flying from him as he asks: “Hey, are you a tequila fan?”
Douchebag Ken frowns. “Yes,” he says, managing to sound almost insulted, and then he points at Kim. “You down for that?”
Kim’s fingers tighten slightly in her lap, out of sight behind the table. Her voice is level as she lays the charge: “You ever try Zafiro Añejo?”
Ken is helpless against it. “No, I have not, but I’m down for whatever!” He addresses the waiter again. “Three of whatever she just said.”
The waiter glances from Ken to Jimmy, his expression carefully neutral—though his eyes do seem to glitter slightly right before he turns and walks back towards the bar.
Jimmy lets himself exhale, long and slow. The world seems to become clearer with the return of oxygen, the room around him crystalizing into sharp lines and deep colors.
Beside him, Kim’s profile is golden from the table lamp, the clearest line of all. When she turns, her gaze seems golden, too, burning under the glow, and he can’t look away. He still feels slightly out of breath, like the air is too thin in here. As if they’ve ascended more than just a couple of steps to reach this booth, as if now they’re at the top of the Sandias, looking out over the city lights from the peak.
He knows it’s just the high-wire walk of positioning a mark. The challenge of moving them into exactly the right place so that you can cut the rope and they won’t even feel themselves fall.
Kim’s gaze flicks left to right, tracking between his pupils. He feels as if she’s reading him like a book, seeing all the way to the dark place inside him and studying what’s there.
Across the table, Ken is yammering through a much more rehearsed-sounding sales pitch now, and Jimmy finally tears his eyes from Kim to acknowledge him.
“. . . and you’re picking the right time to jump in, I promise you,” Ken says, almost hiding the eagerness in his voice. “So let’s tackle some big questions first. I need to know who you are .”
Jimmy laughs quietly. “Who we are?”
Ken nods. “That’s right, brother,” he says, but he’s barely looking over at Jimmy. “Tell me, Giselle. Are you a bull or a bear?” He smirks. “Do you think things are going up from here, or down?”
Kim makes a thoughtful sound. “Up or down?” she repeats. “Ask me again tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I’d love to,” Ken says quickly, too quickly.
Kim’s lips flicker. Her knee brushes Jimmy’s under the table and he inhales—and then the waiter arrives with their drinks. One hundred and fifty bucks worth of liquor set out between them, amber liquid sloshing.
Jimmy’s glass overflows as he picks it up, slick beneath his thumb. The tequila is smooth and rich and caramelly, smokier and deeper than what he usually goes for. He savors it for a moment, letting it spread warmly through him, and then he downs the rest in one as if it’s as cheap and acidic as the well brand earlier. He slams the heel of the glass down on the table and wipes the back of his hand over his mouth.
Across the table, Ken’s slamming his shot back, too—and in the moment of distraction, Jimmy ghosts his palm over Kim’s back again, a response to her knee against his. She leans into the touch slightly, and he brushes his thumb against her, and then he returns his hand to the top of the booth.
His skin feels cold again.
Ken splutters in the background. “Wooh, that’s smooth.” He wipes his hand over his mouth and chuckles, and then he catches Kim’s glass, still full. “Taking it easy, huh?”
Kim’s eyes flash. She sips her drink and then sets it back down, expressionless even as she glances at Jimmy.
Jimmy quirks his head to the side. Fifty dollars worth?
Kim’s gaze softens and she shrugs.
But it feels like at least fifty to Jimmy. His lips tingle and he wets them. He can feel the tequila purring smoothly through him, flowing upwards and pooling in his head, against gravity.
Ken’s going off again now, tapping his forefinger on the table. His eyes are shining already, and Jimmy can almost see the cartoon dollar signs floating in his irises. “This inheritance . . .” The word swims, like cash falling from a slot machine. “Are you just investing for the future, or will you need some current income from your portfolio?”
“Oh, well . . .” Kim says, and a smile plays on her face. “I think we’d like to get at some of it, you know?”
“Totally understandable.” Ken nods.
“Live a little larger, right?” She shifts the smile to Jimmy.
He smiles back, and he feels that electricity crackling in his chest again. And then—“Oh, yeah, exactly,” he says, clicking back into the groove. “I think after Albuquerque we’re gonna head to Vegas, hit up the craps tables.”
Kim says, “Maybe stop and see the Grand Canyon, right?”
Kim clocks the reaction. “What?”
“I told you, Giselle, it’s just so far out of the way . . .” he says.
She shoves him. “Come on . . .” she whines, and then she seems to catch herself. “Sorry,” she says to Ken, “I know it must seem like small potatoes to someone like you, but until last week we’d never been outside Missouri in our lives.”
Ken’s eyebrows climb. “Missouri, huh?”
“Mm,” Kim says. “Little town right along the Mississippi. Nothing like this.”
Jimmy brushes his thumb against the top of the booth seat. Kim’s still out of reach unless he can think of another reasonable excuse to touch her, another joke to lead to a light pat or a shove.
But he’s barely listening to the conversation enough to jump in. Not when Kim’s profile still glitters with gold, as she talks about river boats and root beer and a corner store, and then chuckles as if she’s embarrassed by it all, by these details that bleed into the conversation as if she can’t stop them.
He gets trapped looking at her for a minute, two minutes, ten minutes, while the others’ laughter echoes—
“Hey, how about another round?” Jimmy says, too loud.
“Yes! Viktor!” Douchebag Ken cries, clicking and pointing. “I love this guy.” He twists to find their waiter in the sea of patrons.
Kim turns to Jimmy now, wearing the hint of laughter. Her eyes carry it more than anything, fiery at the edges. As Ken rises to his feet, shouting across for the waiter, she leans close and murmurs into Jimmy’s ear, “What if Uncle Humphrey was eaten by lions?”
He almost laughs, glancing at Ken. “What?”
“You think you can sell it?” Kim whispers, an unfamiliar grin growing on her face, and then she moves back again, away from him.
Kim is already composed again, her fingers laced together on the table. “But, Ken, I have to ask. What about the market at the moment?”
“Hm?” Ken looks up from a menu.
“Isn’t the NASDAQ dropping?” Kim asks innocently. “I think I read that, right?’
“Right,” Jimmy says. “And something about the dot com bubble bursting. . .”
“Well—” Douchebag Ken starts.
“It seems like a really risky time,” Kim says, grimacing. “And mortgage rates are so low, wouldn’t real estate be a safer investment? We have a family friend who—”
Ken claps his palms together and cuts her off, shaking his head. “Look, obviously anyone can pick up a paper and think they understand the financial market,” he says. “But not everyone’s a millionaire, are they?”
“I suppose not . . .” Kim says warily, the ghost of a smile barely visible on her face.
Jimmy shifts, settling further back in the booth. On the wall behind Ken, there’s a huge image of chesspieces on a board, blown up so large it makes the objects seem hyperreal. White queens and black. Music thrums smooth and steady from the speakers, and patrons clatter and laugh around them.
When the next round of tequila arrives, Ken slams his glass back again without losing a step in his pitch. He’s talking about market recovery and year-to-year returns, with enough buzzwords thrown in that it’s obviously a show. A game for him to win, and he already thinks he’s got them. His voice gets louder and louder, too, as if he’s hoping to drag the rest of the bar along for the ride.
The amber tequila floats through Jimmy. He nods slowly, pretending to listen, letting the current carry him further and further, and Kim is nodding beside him—
And he’s watching her again, he’s just been watching her.
He knows she can feel his gaze. She wets her lower lip and nods. She asks another question, dangling more bait, bringing it back to the personal. Making sure Ken knows they’re easy marks from Hannibal, Missouri, right along the Mississippi river, whose biggest claim to worldliness is a trip five years ago to Kansas City.
It shouldn’t work, Jimmy thinks. The play shouldn’t work like this, it shouldn’t be this smooth—and suddenly she turns to him, a question lingering in her eyes, and he replays the last few seconds of the conversation then grins.
“Well,” Jimmy says, “you wouldn’t know it to look at her, but this one’s got a mean right hook.”
“Stop,” Kim says. “Viktor, please.”
He shoves her, playful. “So we weren’t invited back after that!”
Douchebag Ken is shaking his head, and he throws a conspiratorial look to Jimmy. “She’s a handful this one, huh?”
Kim shifts like she’s crossing one leg over the other, but her knee just nudges closer against Jimmy’s under the table. When he presses back against her, her lips shift.
And this time she leaves her knee there, touching his.
Jimmy gives a thick swallow. His voice comes a bit higher than usual anyway: “God, sis, that would’ve been . . . that must’ve been the last time we saw the old windbag, huh?”
Kim nods thoughtfully. “Uncle Humphrey went back to Johannesburg after that. We never made it down. And then—” She looks at her lap. Her lips fold inward like she’s trying to trap some unwanted emotion.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ken says solemnly, only slurring slightly. “Uh—how did he pass?”
“Oh, you know . . .” Kim starts softly, and she meets Jimmy’s eyes. Hers flare brightly, a stark contrast with her solemn expression, but he knows Ken can’t read the shift. Ken can’t read anything.
So Jimmy takes the handover, giving a long and shaky exhale. “Well, thing is, Uncle Humphrey always got these real big ideas.” A wistful smile. “Last year, he took a custodian job at this huge hotel up in the mountains. It was the off season. Not a lot of guests. Just Uncle Humphrey alone . . . working on his novel . . .”
Kim lifts a hand to her mouth and shakes her head slowly.
“I guess after a few months the loneliness was too much. He set a fire in the boiler room and walked out into the wilderness.” Jimmy stares off into the middle distance. “They said the lions got him.”
“I’m sorry!” Kim says, pressing her hand harder against her mouth. Muffled from behind her fingers: “It’s still so hard to talk about.”
Ken clears his throat. “Well, hey, hey there.” He holds up his glass for a toast—his empty glass. He grimaces. “Another round, then! Where’s that goddamn waiter?”
Kim’s knee is burning through Jimmy’s jeans. He moves a hand down to curl over his own knee and then slides it sideways, fingertips of his pinky and ring finger brushing over her leg. He sees her inhale, her chest shifting more than normal under her blouse.
“Who wants more—you’re good, you’re both good?” Ken says, clocking their almost full drinks. “Just me, then.”
“Go on, Ken,” Kim says, low and daring. “We’ll catch up with you next round.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Ken says, pointing to Kim and winking, and she smiles flatly.
Jimmy moves his hand back onto the table, breathing out. Kim glances sideways, glittering, and he wipes a palm over his mouth then has another sip of tequila.
When Ken’s third shot arrives, the three of them raise their glasses. They toast Uncle Humphrey, and Jimmy throws the rest of his shot back—and Kim slams hers this time, too. Jimmy breathes out harshly around the alcohol burning in his throat, and Kim’s grinning at him, her eyes alight—and he hasn’t seen her look like this for months, for years, even. Not since he passed the bar exam, maybe, or not even then—this shining mix of giddiness and pride.
It feels like a hook carving through him, tugging him closer.
Across the table, Ken cracks open his briefcase, propping it on the booth seat beside him. “So, lemme see here,” he says, “I have a rundown on the different plans we offer . . .”
“Absolutely,” Jimmy says brightly. “Hit us with it.”
But Kim makes a low noise. “You two hold down the fort,” she says. “I have to make a quick call.” She ghosts a hand over Jimmy’s arm as she maneuvers herself out of the booth, and it feels like an injustice that she’s not about to lean in and kiss him right now, too—and then she does lean in close, closer than she should, and she murmurs, “Order us some food, okay, brother?”
“Yep,” Jimmy manages, nodding as Kim drifts away. She heads towards the bar, glancing over at him once, her expression neutral.
Near an open glass patio, she pulls her cellphone from her handbag, and as soon as she lifts it to her ear, her posture changes. Any new looseness is gone again, as she nods along with whoever she’s speaking to like she’s trying to forestall any objections. It’s a familiar posture, even if it’s always a bit foreign on her—the posture of upstairs meetings and running into Howard Hamlin in the halls or Chuck in—
Jimmy clenches his jaw. Chuck nowhere, now.
But just a few weeks ago, he’d been sitting on the bench in the park outside Chuck’s house, making fists with his toes in the grass. Just a few weeks ago, Chuck had returned to HHM, the entire firm applauding for his entrance.
Progress, finally, after eighteen months of slipping deeper and deeper inside himself. Locking himself behind more and more doors. Progress that had seemed to mirror Jimmy’s own: the first steps into elder law met with Chuck reading case files again; or Jimmy uncovering a new class action suit and Chuck walking out into the sun and up the foyer steps towards the conference room. And Jimmy had let himself think that his progress would help, that if he could just fix his own life Chuck’s would be fixed, too.
That maybe that office on the third floor right next to Chuck’s would bring Chuck back. A brother working like normal again.
Jimmy huffs sharply. He picks up a menu and scans it, and when the waiter next passes their booth, Jimmy orders some plates of whatever—little overpriced arrangements of bar food that show up at the table before Kim does.
When she returns to them, finally, some of the animation seems gone from her. She slides into the booth, and he lifts his arm back over the top of the seat again. Kim seems to nestle even closer, this time.
Her thigh presses into his and she gives a soft smile, then she breathes out steadily and faces the table. The dishes of food are mostly untouched. “Oh, bruschetta!” she says, loudly and brightly as she reaches for the plate. She has a bite and makes a delighted sound.
Douchebag Ken raises his eyebrows. “You like that, huh?”
Kim’s eyes flare. “Mm, and I think we could use even more ,” she says through another mouthful, and she flags the waiter again and orders yet more plates of food and another round of shots—still the Zafiro, please, because it’s just so hard to resist.
When everything arrives, it barely fits on the table. The waiter nestles the next three shots around the glowing golden lamp in the center of everything, and Jimmy’s gotta remember to leave some cash somewhere on the way out, because there’s no way Ken is gonna tip this guy, even if there was a reasonably priced check waiting for him at the end of the night.
Jimmy swipes a wedge of pita through some hummus and grins at Kim. She’s asking more leading questions as Ken hands over glossy and appealing sheets of paper, slick marketing tools that promise he works for the leading investment firm in the state, in the country, in the world.
Their glasses empty, slower this time. The bar lights twinkle and the waterfall turns over on itself, glittering and glittering. Jazz clatters from the speakers and plates rattle. The whole place feels lifted from the regular flow of weekdays. Sliced out of a normal Thursday afternoon, or Thursday evening, or whatever it is right now here among the endless sea of falling liquor.
At some point, Kim goads Ken into throwing back the rest of his shot, and he does, his face breaking with disappointment when she doesn’t follow suit. Another one, she says then, I’ll join if you have another one, and Ken relents easily, because of course he’s going to.
The plates of food, too, slowly empty. Jimmy crunches through crostini and arancini and stuffed olives—though he ignores the breadsticks, his gaze skidding off them to land on the gleaming tequila or the glowing lamp.
Or on Kim, always on Kim. Her thigh is a warm pressure against his, torturous. She shifts, sometimes, crossing her legs and drifting further away and then returning, her eyes constantly on something else, her mouth moving with some innocent conversation while she brushes her foot against his foot or her knee against his knee, or ghosts her hand over his thigh.
At some point, Ken goes to the bathroom, drifting away on almost-steady feet. Jimmy drops his arm to Kim’s shoulders as he twists to watch the broker vanish. “Jesus,” he whispers. “How many shots has he had? It might kill him.”
“Him, a golden god?” Kim scoffs, and then she smiles again, the same unfamiliar dark grin as earlier, and shrugs. “He’s holding it pretty well.”
Jimmy shrugs back at her, a small mirrored movement.
Kim’s smile shifts. Her gaze drops to his lips.
“Careful,” he murmurs, flicking a glance down the bar.
Kim nods and straightens. She checks behind them, too. “What if . . .” she whispers, slow and close and he leans in to hear better. “What if Uncle Humphrey . . .”
Jimmy grins. “Yeah?”
“We should know how he made his fortune.” Kim’s voice is low, and her gaze drifts downwards to his collar. She reached for it, brushing her fingers over the top button, fiddling with the pink fabric and then smoothing it back into place. “What if he invented . . . uh . . .”
“. . . liquid paper?” Jimmy offers.
Kim snorts. “No,” she says quickly, but then she glances again across the bar. “Okay, maybe. D’you think he’ll know—”
“It doesn’t matter, trust me.”
She nods sharply. “Okay. You sell it.”
But Jimmy nudges her. “Your turn. C’mon, you got this,” he says, and then, throatier: “Giselle.”
Her eyes darken but she shakes her head. “I like watching you,” she says firmly, and then she leans back again, settling against the booth like normal. She pretends to study the papers before her, flicking to the next sheet and frowning.
The tequila swims through his brain, just the tequila. Jimmy rubs the pad of his thumb against his lip and then has another sip, golden liquor running smooth down his throat. He knows he should be playing it as slow as Kim—Kim, who’s managed to make two shots look like four or five, and who becomes suddenly tipsier the moment Douchebag Ken returns to the booth.
Ken’s tie is loosened now, his shirtsleeves rolled up. Kim giggles at something he says, and she points to a line of text on the paper, and Ken gives a patient sigh and starts explaining contract law to Kimberly Wexler.
But even after his return, Jimmy still feels like the guy is miles away, as if the other side of the booth is a distant shore across an ocean—the maze of glasses and half-empty plates a sea. And Ken has gotta be half-a-dozen drinks deep now, right? He can’t be thinking clearly.
He can’t be seeing clearly, either. Jimmy brushes his fingertips over Kim’s back, climbing upwards.
Kim just asks another question, her fingers laced on the table atop the latest document. She quirks her head sideways, looking convincingly interested to anyone else in the room.
Jimmy teases the nape of her neck with his thumb. Her fingers tighten and then relax and she nods steadily.
The table between them empties of plates and then fills again. The bar darkens, crowding with more and more patrons, the music seeming to get even louder. He and Kim trade off being the reluctant one, with Kim shaking her head and hedging and not believing what Douchebag Ken is telling them, and then she’ll murmur something in Jimmy’s ear—her breath on his skin—and then he’s the reluctant one again, and Kim’s convinced.
The restaurant lights swim and the cushions of the booth seem to get softer and softer, dragging the two of them closer like they’re rolling downhill. Kim’s thigh is pressed against his again, has been for so long he’s lost track of when it began this time, and across the table Ken is dangling from a hook. Jimmy jumps through another story about the infamous Uncle Humphrey’s menagerie of exotic pets, spinning his hands and spinning threads.
Kim’s gaze glitters as she listens to him.
They haven’t talked about an end game here. They haven’t talked about any of it, nothing except the next challenge, the next play. The next thing to make this drag on longer and longer, the afternoon stretching into evening into night. The next lie to sell to keep them here with Viktor and Giselle, whose only problems are figuring out what to do with their new millions and deciding whether or not to make a detour to the Grand Canyon.
Kim lifts her hand to her mouth in response to some question, and she hums against her fingertips.
Her eyes, whenever they land on Jimmy’s, are like the bare ends of wires, stripped and dangerous. Electricity sparks in his chest, arcing whenever she turns. He knows how he looks—sitting there, half smile on his face, his arm never far from her shoulders.
She’s the only one playing their mark now, the only one running the game. She wears it well, and she spins stories of her own, sitting there just out of reach, and it all feels like her response to his question that morning—his assumption, his old read of her, the idea that he thought he knew what she wanted.
Kim chews on the edge of her thumbnail, listening and nodding and sliding her ankle along Jimmy’s leg under the table. She nudges him and then moves away again and grins, and it’s almost a reaction to one of Ken’s jokes except she holds it a little too long; and when she next meets Jimmy’s eyes, blue bolts spark and crackle from her stripped wire gaze.
He thinks he didn’t understand her after all. He thinks she’s getting off on him not understanding her.
The outside air hits his cheeks like knife blades, cold and sharp. He grins around the feeling, running with echoing footsteps and echoing laughter. Kim’s hand is tight in his, and he drags her along the tree-lined walkway, like thieves fleeing down a narrow alley or children dodging the gaps in picket fences, sprinting between Cicero houses with the city lights behind them and the night dark and glowing above.
“Go, go, go!” Kim hisses, and Jimmy pulls her faster.
Around a corner: the snaking pool, still as supernaturally blue as it had been earlier, spiraling up through him and bursting out and—“Zafiro Añejo!” Jimmy cries, punching the air and loosing the words up and up into the night.
Kim giggles and shushes him, and they slow, her hands at his back. Jimmy grins harder, his pulse pounding. He scrunches up the contract they just signed and hook shots it towards a towel bin—and it seems to hang in the air, up in the dark with their voices, turning and turning—until finally it lands, vanishing.
He yells in triumph, hoarse and primal, and reaches for Kim again, brushing his palm over her elbow.
“Holy crap—” she says, bringing her hand up to her mouth, muffling more giggles.
And Jimmy had to stop now, his breath lost and the lights hazing around them. Tiki torches crackle with flames and smoke, and music from inside the bar bleeds out into the nigh, the low bass thumping and thumping through him. “Hey, Kim . . .” he manages.
Giddy laughter spills from her. She looks up at him with fires in her eyes, ready for whatever he’s about to say. The next idea, the next play.
But he can’t think of any words. He raises his eyebrows and opens his mouth and finds no way to capture the rush of everything passing between them. The bassline from the distant speakers continues, pounding inside his skin as if he’s got an extra pulse—two pulses, three, four, stacking on top of each other.
Kim exhales slowly, forcing air through rounded lips. She shakes her head.
The flames seem to catch the borders of her, outlining her—a golden god.
Beside them, the pool throws off threads of light, glimmering strands that weave over the tiles. Bright points like stars, connected with fragile lines to make constellations, and they’re standing in amongst it all.
Kim laughs again. Not with the muffled giggles of their gleeful flight, now, but short and low and questioning. Like she can’t believe what they’ve done.
He can’t believe it either. He chuckles, shaking his head in reply.
The music thuds again, even louder. The torches crackle gold and it’s just the two of them, all alone now, beside the bright pool.
Gods in the firmament.
Kim’s smile drops—or not drops, but transforms . There’s no question in it anymore. There’s just her eyes glittering as they meet his.
And then she steps forward.
When she kisses him, it feels like she’s falling into his body. It feels like she’s cutting the ropes and letting him catch her. He closes his eyes and tries to, curling his palm around her waist. She tastes likes añejo tequila: smoky and burning—and strong, crushing him until he has to step back to keep them balanced.
She chuckles lowly against his lips, her knee hitting his leg as she finds steadier footing, too. He brings his other hand up to her waist. She’s warm and solid. Not a dream, not a god, just Kim.
Her thumbs brush his cheeks. Light and familiar.
Then she pulls back. Her eyes gleam and loose threads drift from her ponytail.
Jimmy lets out some more of the same wondrous half-laughter of earlier. It rings loudly in his ears—too loud and too revealing, out here alone in the dark. Insects chirp among the pulsing music and somewhere a fountain churns. It doesn’t feel like enough to cover what they’ve done.
Kim’s gaze flicks to his mouth then back to his eyes. Her pupils track left and right, and then her face softens, and she rises onto her toes and hugs him. She leans into him and he has to bear the weight of her again, and he crooks his arm around her waist, holding her there.
She’s still breathing hard, heavy exhalations that move against his own chest. Her hand rises to the nape of his neck, and she tucks her cheek into the wedge of his shoulder.
Jimmy scrunches his hand in the back of her blouse.
Her fingers spread out, fanning through his hair, her pinky slipping below the back of his collar. She exhales into his skin, steady and slow.
It feels like a hug for something else, for some other time or place. Her purse dangles against his back, a solid weight on his spine that’s locking them together, but he tightens his grip on her blouse anyway, tangling his fingers in the blue fabric.
When she pulls back again, the poolside seems quieter. The heavy bass has vanished, leaving only the low churn of the fountain and whirr of insects. The hiss of the tiki torches.
Kim runs her palm down his arm and finds his hand. She glances towards the walkway they just came down, with its inky shrubs and dim lights. The bar itself is unseen. Just the shifting shadows on the tiled floor from patrons standing at the outdoor tables. No sign of any pursuit yet.
“Let’s go,” Jimmy murmurs, squeezing her hand. “I’ll call a taxi.”
Kim smiles. “Your cellphone still works?”
“I had a pool system!” he says, but then he chuckles. “All right, it might need to dry out a bit. You’d better call.”
But Kim is shaking her head. “I’m fine to drive,” she says.
Jimmy laughs faintly.
Her pupils glint. “My last shot is still sitting on the table.”
His grin widens. “You left it?” he says. “Douchebag Ken’s fifty bucks well spent.”
“Yes,” Kim says darkly. “It was.” She stares at him steadily, and then she rises and kisses him again, firm and assertive.
He hums agreement against her lips. The taste of her seems to betray her words: his tongue finds the warmth of the tequila, sweet and caramelly. He lets his eyes fall closed for a moment, and then he pulls back. “You might need to dry out a bit, too.”
She grins and nudges his shoulder. “Shut up,” she says. “I’m okay, Jimmy. Really.” She watches him steadily.
And it strikes him how little of the tequila she really drank over the last few hours. A few shots stretched and stretched like a pro, and she stands there on balanced feet and stares at him like she’s forcing him to see that this was about something more for her than just free top-shelf booze.
The raw hook in his chest tugs, and he doesn’t even care if she’s over the limit, anyway, if she’s just rolling the dice on this next risk, too. He wants to get out of here, wants to fly recklessly along the dark roads with Kim in the driver’s seat.
“C’mon, then,” he says, grinning.
She tugs him onward, moving down past the glowing pool, through the webs of light cast over the dim courtyard.
They slip through the shadows of the place, hands interlocked, leaving echoes behind them.
As soon as they enter the hushed foyer, scampering beneath the bright chandeliers, Jimmy feels the dizzy laughter return. It’s infectious, and their muffled giggles ring from the clean walls. Kim’s hand slips up to the small of his back, hurrying them through the immaculate lobby and out to the wide, gray parking lot.
Kim’s green Eclipse waits near the exit. They quieten as they walk to it, laughter falling away again with the resort at their backs. Jimmy slides into the passenger seat, and when Kim starts the car he can feel the gentle rumble of the engine deep in his chest, steady and patient.
The tropical paradise on the signs for the Sandia Blue doesn’t seem to mock him, now, as Kim wheels out of the gates and slips along the empty streets towards the city.
Jimmy rests his elbow on the bottom of his window and curls his hand behind his neck. He watches Kim drive, the car silent except for the hum of the tires and the engine. He watches her drive like he’s always done, like he would whenever they decided to escape this place for a day or a weekend; like he watched her that evening a decade ago, driving along Lomas Boulevard towards UNM and the Ramada Hotel, with law school still ahead of her and some damn test looming, and Jimmy there in the passenger seat pretending to help her study.
He closes his eyes and opens them again. He’s still here. Kim’s face seems to shift with the red flashes of braking cars, with the bright glow of green lights. Beneath the sliding colors her expression is unchanging: a small smile, her eyes fixed softly on the dark road.
The vibrations of the Eclipse snake up to his heart and tremble there, impossible to hold back.
Jimmy follows Kim through the doorway, quiet, his palm brushing the small of her back. She flicks on the lights, spilling yellow through the entryway, and tosses her keys into a bowl on the console near the door. Her overstuffed briefcase thuds down next to the bowl—her briefcase that waited in her car, untouched, the entire afternoon.
He smiles at the sight of it. “I bet they’re gonna be wondering what happened to you at HHM.” A statement that’s really a question.
Kim chuckles and shakes her head. “I phoned Howard,” she says, sliding her purse off her arm and setting that on the console, too. “But I think he already knew what I was doing.”
Jimmy moves up behind her again, ghosting a hand over her back. “Oh, did he?”
“Shush,” she says. “I mean, trying to talk you around.” She opens the purse now, hunting for something.
He shifts closer. “Is that what you were doing tonight?” he murmurs, low near her ear.
She gives a soft huff of laughter and stills in her search. Jimmy presses a kiss to the side of her neck, and she inhales. She curls a hand over his head and he hums, moving downward along her shoulder, and then she turns and kisses him.
When her right hand comes up behind his back, he feels something sharp in it, spined edges digging into his shirt. She twists her other hand in his button-up, pressing against him even tighter. She still tastes like Zafiro Añejo.
And then she pulls back. Jimmy makes a soft noise, watching her turn away again. She moves through to the bedroom and he trails after her—and he sees now she’s holding the stopper from the tequila bottle, the little bronze agave plant.
He lingers in the doorway, watching her study it. She turns the stopper over, and for a moment it seems like a piece of a place that shouldn’t be here, like an object plucked from a dream and brought into the real world.
When she sets it on her dresser, the spines glint in the light. Not just a trophy from the last few hours, but a testament—a permanent record of what they did together.
Not a dream, not a spun fiction.
Jimmy wipes his fingers over his mouth. He feels like he’s drifting, still, from the drive over here, like he’s floating a foot above a humming road. He watches Kim and she seems to feel him watching her, as she steps teasingly out of her heels and then she reaches back to unclasp her necklace. The falling dagger glints, too, as she hangs it on its holder. Stripping herself of these careful pieces of Kim Wexler—or the Kim Wexler the outside world gets to see, anyway: put together and sharp.
He remembers her in the courthouse hallway that morning, standing among name partners from New Mexico’s leading firms. It feels like a very long time ago. A different Kim from the one whose bedroom he stands at the edge of, now.
For the first time in . . . he’s not sure. He’s fallen asleep on her sofa a few times in the last year—and luxuriated in her hot shower with no time limit. Evenings when she’d called him and offered a movie night, a tone in her voice that had started appearing after she found out about the daily deliveries to Chuck’s place.
And maybe that had been the last real time he’d stayed here, that strange morning in the half light of pre-dawn, trying to slip out and make it to the newsstand before Kim woke up. That night had been liquor-fueled, too—another flash of a foreign Kim, one who downs bourbon shots during a bar association mixer and calls him and then falls asleep with her cheek on his chest.
But this is different.
This is a Kim who runs the long game on a mark like a natural, who slides her hand over his thigh under the table of a crowded bar, who spins colorful stories about South Africa and Missouri better than he does.
She smiles at him now, doubled in the mirror. Two Kims with their eyes trained on him, warm and dark, as she fiddles with the back of her left earring. She slides the dagger free and then looks down again, nestling the jewelry carefully in a tray on the dresser.
He swallows and looks away. Kim’s bed is laid out with case files: stacks of documents in Hamlindigo blue folders; yellow legal pads whose pages curl up towards the ceiling. Jimmy wanders over and idly opens one of the files. It’s filled with notes on Sandpiper residents, short summaries of their billings going back for the last three years. The first few are names he recognises, and he smiles faintly, and then on the next sheet the people become unfamiliar.
“This is what you’re working on?” he asks, eyes falling on thousand-dollar figures highlighted in yellow or pink. “There’s lots of new folks in here . . .”
“Mm,” Kim hums, and she brushes her hand over his shoulders as she passes behind him, heading for the bathroom.
The faucet runs. Jimmy picks up the biggest case folder and moves down to the chair near the end of her bed, shifting aside a legal journal for space. He unwinds the string holding the file shut and lets it flop open.
He sees his own writing, his own case notes from weeks ago.
In the bathroom, the faucet shuts off again.
The curve of Kim’s shoulders in the pale light tugs at his stomach. She looks like ten years ago; she looks like nothing he’s seen before.
He closes his eyes briefly and then lowers his gaze. In the case file, he passes more familiar faces, women with first names out of old marquees. There’s a couple of photocopied sheets of once-shredded documents, reconstructed much more neatly than anything he and Chuck had managed beneath the spluttering white gas.
Jimmy frowns, scanning through lines of old financial agreements, then he folds the next sheet over to find a seemingly endless back-and-forth with one of the bulk order medical supply companies. Haggling over wholesale pricing.
He looks up.
Kim smiles at him gently, wandering closer on bare feet. Her cheeks are pink, loose strands of hair around her forehead slightly damp. She stands before him, and he tilts his head up at her.
“Hey,” he says, mirroring her smile. “Just catching up.”
“I thought you quit the law,” Kim says.
He shrugs, closing the folder and setting it on the end table beside him. “I did,” he says. “I have.”
Kim nods slowly. She sweeps her fingertips over his knees and he instinctively widens his legs. She moves forward into the gap. “Okay, then,” she murmurs, finally.
“Not gonna argue this time?”
Her eyes crinkle. “No.” She fiddles with the collar of his shirt.
Jimmy budges forward, lifting his hands to her hips. He stares up at her like he’s daring her to prove her earlier words true. That one thing has nothing to do with the other, he thinks, as he trails his palms up to her ribs and then back to her hips.
His skin feels more sensitive than normal, the fabric rough against him. He doesn’t break the gaze, still holding the same challenge: That she’s not waiting for him to climb high enough, that he’s better without the law. That he’s himself without it, that without the law he can finally win.
Just like they won tonight. He tries to pass the feeling through his palms and into her. The electric blue spark of the con going right, of being above them all: the men in suits and briefcases and earpieces.
The rush, the high, all of it.
Kim must feel it, because she leans down and kisses him. It’s different from earlier. She kisses him slowly and purposefully, as if she’s savoring it, as if now she’s not waiting to be anywhere else. He hums into her, gliding his hands around her back.
He tugs her blouse up, freeing it from her skirt and then sliding his palms over bare skin. Kim chuckles against his lips, and he pulls the blouse higher, breaking away to draw it over her head.
He exhales. He trails his hands around her stomach, trying to touch her enough to make up for the last hours when he couldn’t—for the last years when he couldn’t—running his hands over her skin, over and over.
She’s warm but he feels the ripple of goosebumps beneath his fingertips, anyway, as he ghosts over her ribs.
And then Kim’s hands are on him just as much. She struggles with the buttons of his shirt, stiff and too new. He trails his fingers down her stomach and then helps, working up from the bottom until finally just hauling the shirt over his head, undershirt going with it.
He tosses the whole bundle to the floor and grins at her. She frames his face with her palms. Her thumbs brush his lips and then she’s pressing her mouth to his again. He closes his eyes, trailing his hands up and finding the back of her bra. He fiddles with the clasp but Kim deepens the kiss and his fingers slow, everything shrinking to the smoke against his lips, the warmth of the amber tequila lingering between them.
Kim’s hands slide lower, skimming down his neck and then his stomach, and he hisses, his skin still hypersensitive and almost painful. She leans against him, both palms on his chest, and he grimaces. “Shit—”
Kim shifts back, brow scrunching in concern.
His chest is glowing: a wide stripe of sunburn down to his belt, just beginning to come up red. He chuckles thickly. “Well, fuck.”
Kim makes a sympathetic noise.
“Good thing you didn’t jump in the pool after all, huh?” he says.
She laughs gently and strokes her fingers through his hair. “I knew I had a reason.”
He stretches up to kiss her again. “It’s okay,” he says. “Can’t even really feel it yet.”
She hums against his mouth. Her hands return to his waist, and there’s no burn in that spot but it feels overly sensitive, anyway, like new skin over a wound.
He rises up into the touch, sitting right on the edge of the chair now, Kim wedged as close as she can get between his legs. She moves her fingers to his belt, and he breaks from her lips to find her jaw. Her left hand rises to tangle in his hair, and he can feel the soft noises she’s making through his lips, can feel her throat vibrating.
“C’mon,” Kim says, and her throat buzzes with that, too, and then she’s pulling at him, drawing him up and back, and he stands.
Her blouse flutters to the ground now, falling from his lap. Kim draws his belt open, her fingers swiping against the sunburn above his waistline, and he grunts. He steps out of his jeans, bending to tug them free of his ankles and then throw them over the chair.
Then he reaches for Kim again, for the edge of her skirt, but she just grins and draws him backwards. She shoves the duvet down to the end of the bed, spilling the last Sandpiper file open on the carpet, and then she turns them around so that his back is to the bed.
Her palms leave white hot trails over his skin, over his stomach, descending to his boxers and then torturously back up again, and he latches his fingers into her skirt and drags her with him onto the bed.
The air crashes out of him as he hits the mattress. Kim grins, and she climbs over him, her arms framing his head. She kisses his neck, still slow, still as deliberate as earlier.
Like a choice, like choice after choice. He exhales sharply, a blade in his throat.
She mouths something into his skin and then lifts her head. “Move back.”
Jimmu nods. He slides up the bed, resting against the pillows, propped up against the headboard. He holds out his hands for her, and Kim tugs her skirt higher up her thighs and straddles him. Her eyes darken as she settles there, breathing slowly, her hands on his forearms.
Kim rocks and he presses up into her. His boxers scrape against him and he digs his fingers into her waist then relaxes again, and she grins down at him.
She lifts a hand to his face, her thumb ghosting over his cheek.
Jimmy swallows. He runs his palms down her back, and he feels a rash of goosebumps again, and maybe she feels like he does—hypersensitive all over, exposed to all these sparking ends of wires. She rolls her hips against him and the layers of fabric are coarse and mocking.
And he’s here again in Kim’s bed and it’s been—her fingers tangling in his hair, grazing his neck—it’s been a year, two years, too long . Her hand slips beneath his boxers, brushing over his hipbone and then withdrawing, bringing flashes of memory: a night in his old apartment, his brain cut off from his body as she tried to comfort him after his mother’s funeral. Another Cicero trip, another silent flight home. He clenches his fingers in the sheets beside him and remembers his fingers clenching in the covers then, everything too much, everything ending in nothing.
And he grunts now, crushing his lips to hers, and she returns it just as fiercely.
This isn’t that night two years ago—this isn’t even the good times before that, this is different, deeper and deeper. He moves to her neck again and feels the rumble of her throat. Her hands on his bare waist seem to cut inside him.
This is raw and hypersensitive, more healed wounds. Healed arguments and healed assumptions and new dark places, shared between them.
She mouths along his jaw and around to his ear. Her breath is warm and light and ticklish, like the whispered challenges of a few hours ago. She hums against his earlobe and he bucks up into her and he’s so glad they’re not in the damn booth anymore.
“Jesus, Kim,” he hisses, and her laughter sweeps shivers over him, spreading from his ear.
“What if . . .” she whispers, right against his ear, words trembling through him, and for a second he thinks she’s about to say something else about a fake uncle being eaten by lions, and he feels like he’s being ripped apart, anyway—but she just kisses his neck and then moves downward, and he can feel the smile in her lips.
“God,” he says, breathless. “Today was . . .”
Another kiss to his chest, and then she looks up. Kim shakes her head slowly, wondrous. “How much do you think we cost him?”
“Please don’t make me do math right now,” he says. He rubs his thumbs in circles on her waist. “Don’t worry, he’s still gonna think it was worth it.”
Kim kisses the edge of his sunburn and hums.
“Still thinks he booked a million dollar client,” Jimmy murmurs, and Kim grinds, his boxers and her skirt scraping between them, and he bores his fingers harder into her. “—got your number.”
Her lips are light over his chest: “My fake number.”
Jimmy just exhales. “God, you had him around your little finger, Kim.” She moves over his breastbone, raining light kisses that burn red hot, and he murmurs, “Wonder what that’s like.”
Kim looks up at him again, her eyebrows drawing together. He tightens his hold on her waist, but she just studies him, like she’s defying him to say she really controls him like that, too, like he really would do anything she asked, after today.
So he shakes his head. “It was just magic, is all,” he says.
Kim breathes against his collarbone, soft air that flutters through him. Her eyes shine and she kisses him again, dark tequila. “Magic,” she whispers, and he swallows the word.
“Mhm.” And he returns the sound to her, rumbling in his chest. As she rolls her hips against him he continues, low and throatily: “We had him, Kim. He woulda done anything by the end there. Anything. ”
Her fingers tighten around his upper arms.
“The bar tab is just a start,” he says. “Next time . . .” And Kim’s movements don’t change at all, don’t falter, so he keeps talking: “Next time we can get more. We can get money,” he says. “Whatever you want.”
She draws back again now, studying him.
Loose blonde threads float over her forehead, and his hands rise automatically to free her ponytail. He slides the band away. Her hair seems to briefly resist the escape before collapsing into it, curls spilling over her shoulders in gathered strands. He runs his fingers through the gold.
“Whatever I want?” she repeats, finally.
“Yeah,” Jimmy says. His mouth is dry. “Yeah.” And he asks the question he’s been asking ever since this morning in the courthouse: “What do you want?”
She stills. Her hand moves around to his chest again, fingertips brushing his skin. She looks at him the way she had looked at him beside the pool, the way she’d looked at him in the booth. Her eyes gleaming darkly.
And the hook carves through him again and again, barbed.
She kisses him, her fingers curling around his jaw, holding him in place. He deepens it this time, and she moans lowly, almost inaudible.
He unfastens her bra, and her hands vanish from his chest briefly as she slides it off, and then she’s framing his face again, her lips moving steadily against his. Jimmy sweeps his thumbs over her nipples and her nails dig into his scalp and she hums against his mouth.
Her breasts are soft and warm in his palms, moving with her breaths, and he feels a rush of something so strong he has to squeeze his eyes shut. He feels the answer to his question—the answer she’s giving with her hands on his skin, in his hair.
Kim grinds against him, steady. She reaches back for her skirt zipper, sliding it down, and then she rises up onto her knees. Instead of moving off him she just pulls the skirt up and over her head and throws it aside.
When she sits down again, she’s a little further away than before, further down his thighs. He hooks his fingers into her panties to draw her closer again, but she just grins, trailing a hand down his stomach and then stroking her palm over his boxers.
He makes a gruff noise in his throat. His hips hitch, pressing into her touch. He trails his fingers over her arm, her hand, back to his shoulders, not landing on a spot. Kim ghosts her palm up his stomach and then returns to his waistband, and she slides her fingers under the fabric and starts drawing his boxers down.
He lifts his hips for her, shimmying out of them, and then he leans forward and stretches around her to pull them all the way off and kick them away.
Kim presses him back down onto the pillows, her fingers splayed somewhere at the edge of his sunburn, but the top of his chest is so flushed now anyway it’s hard to tell where the burn even begins.
“Kim,” he manages, right before she curls her hand around him.
He hisses, leaning back against the headboard. He feels her lips on his chest like a white-hot brand. Her breath seems to tighten his skin, and he grits his teeth, clenching his fingers on her shoulder. She strokes him slowly, her palm moving up to the head of his dick and then back down and then vanishing, and his hips twitch.
She presses another kiss to burning red skin. “How’s that?”
“Good,” he gasps. “Jesus. Torture.”
She hums quietly. “Payback.”
“Payback?’ he croaks.
“Mm,” she says, trailing her fingers over his hipbone, now. “For everything in the booth.”
“Hey. You were practically—measuring my inseam,” he says, and he swallows tightly and then grips her arm. “Stop—stop, here.”
He grabs the back of her thighs, helping lift her to her knees again. As soon as there’s space beneath her, he slides down until he’s flat on his back, then taps the top of his chest.
“Get up here,” he says.
Kim chuckles, and she moves off him, but it’s just to roll onto her back and pull her underwear off, and then she’s settling above him again. She shifts the pillows from under his head, clearing room to them both, and Jimmy presses a light kiss to her thigh as she gets comfortable.
Her hair falls golden around her face, and then he can’t see her face at all. Her thumbs press against his forehead and he breathes lightly on the soft skin inside her thigh. He mouths formless words there. The pads of her thumbs dig harder and he grins with the familiarity of it all.
She rakes her fingers back through his hair, brushing it down. Her palm presses warm on his forehead, her nails gentle and too light, and he shivers. He leaves more open kisses on her thigh, getting closer, and she pets him, patient.
And then finally he smooths his tongue over her. Her legs tense, and he moves a hand around to her stomach, keeping a steady pressure as she rocks into him. It’s heady and heavy and always too much, always not enough. Kim’s fingers slip over his scalp, erratic now, splaying down through his hair then scratching around an ear. He increases the pressure and then lightens it and she tenses again, and he feels like he can swallow her every movement, every jolt and exhale.
He sucks firmly and she groans. He grabs her waist tighter as she keeps her balance: her hand landing hard on his chest as she leans back, then finding the wall again as she tilts forward.
He chuckles deep in his throat and her fingers tighten in his hair, so he keeps going, making low noises just to make them, his chest rumbling. She shudders, and grinds against him, and his jaw burns and aches and she runs her fingertips back, back and back over his scalp, and he feels like he’s splitting into pieces.
Her thighs clench around him. He keeps going with the same insistent pressure, everything funneling into the weight of her and the crush of her legs around his ears, and he flattens his palm harder on her stomach and he feels her breathing like it’s him breathing, like it’s all the same thing.
She tenses and jerks and then stills, and he slows his tongue. He keeps up the movements for a while, gentle, until her breath hitches and she rises off him, rolling to the side.
Jimmy trails after her with his hands, fingertips sliding over her skin. She smiles at him, her cheeks pink and hair wild around her face. The bed sinks and dips, and she lies on her stomach and nestles her head near his shoulder.
He threads his fingers through her hair and grins, catching his breath.
She breathes against him, rising and falling. His chest rises and falls, too. Her palm lays flat on it, undulating with his movements, until after a time she brushes her fingertips lightly over his chest hair.
He tips his head back on the bare sheet and lets the world become this one sensation: Kim’s palm outlining him, leaving scorching trails over the sensitive skin.
She smooths circles above his heart, then infinity signs or figure eights. Her fingers splay and then draw together again, and she strokes her hand downward, soothing.
Her ceiling is a haze of yellow lights, bulbs burning blue halos on his eyes.
When he feels her mouth on his stomach, he tips his head forward again. The world swims with the movement—as if he’s hit with the tequila again, stronger, but he thinks he’s just drunk on this, on Kim’s hands on him. She’s shifting down his body, and he slides a pillow back under his head to watch her.
Kim meets his eyes, and he reaches for her, fingers brushing the soft ends of her hair where it spills over her shoulder.
“Don’t move,” she murmurs.
He nods. He draws his hand back again, his arms returning to his sides, and Kim makes a satisfied sound and trails kisses along his stomach. Her lips ghost down from his belly button, and there’s the scrape of her teeth, and he groans, hands making fists in the air.
He’s still hard, and she strokes him again. He watches her hand move over him, slow and firm. He feels studied, laid bare. She runs the knuckles of her other hand over his thigh.
His hands flinch at his sides. He misses her skin. He moves a palm to his own chest, just to feel something. Kim reaches up and weaves her fingers with his, and he sighs.
“You know,” Kim says quietly, “I thought for sure he was going to catch on . . .” She mouths at the wedge of his hip, moving inward, closer and closer, and then she takes him in her mouth.
She’d said something—what had she said? “What?” Jimmy rasps.
Strands of blonde hair obscure her profile, but he catches the glitter in her eyes. She says, lowly, “I thought he was going to figure us out. The way you were looking at me.”
“Couldn’t help it,” Jimmy manages, and then Kim’s mouth is on him again, and he thinks that at least tonight in the bar was nothing like how he’s staring at her now. Jesus Christ. He tightens his grip on her fingers. “I didn’t think you would ever . . .”
She hums and the vibrations run through him like static. It sounds like agreement, and he rocks up into her, but then she smooths her free hand over his hip to hold him down and asks, “Ever what?”
He shakes his head. He can’t remember. His mouth hangs open, watching her. She grins wickedly and he twitches.
“Ever join in?” she offers, and he nods, and she swallows him again, and his ears fill with fuzz and he digs his fingers into the bedsheets and into her skin. He breathes raggedly, and her hand joins her mouth, warm and tight, and then after too long and not enough she pulls back and murmurs, “I liked it.”
“Jesus—” Jimmy gasps, and he’s reaching for her now. “Kim, I need . . .” His fingers fumble, thumbs knocking her shoulders. She smiles at him and moves towards him, and he pulls her up further, closer and closer.
She straddles his hips again, leaning over his chest. Her palms press on either side of him, dipping the mattress. He kisses her hungrily, trying to devour her and the taste of them and the smoky tequila.
“I need—” he gasps again.
And there’s no more teasing. Kim sinks down onto him in one smooth movement, and he exhales sharply, squeezing his eyes shut. It feels like the whole world is crushing in on him, knives cutting through his skin.
“Jimmy,” Kim hums, so he wrenches his eyes open, staring at her, because he knows that’s what she wants. He grasps at her hips, and she starts rocking slowly, familiarly. She kisses his chest again, his collarbone, and he winds his fingers into her hair.
He finds a rhythm, gradually. Matching Kim’s torturously slow movements, rising to meet her. She’s marking his chest, her teeth on his skin, his nipples, then back to his mouth.
His fingers slip over her waist, then down to her thighs, then up again to her breasts. Unfocused and foggy touches because he can’t hold enough of her, can’t keep enough of her in his hands.
And then slow becomes too slow, the torture too torturous, and he grunts. He taps his hands on her ribs, moving her up, and then he rolls them over. She exhales with a rush of air, laughing, and he grins.
And finally he drives into her. Kim rakes her fingernails over his shoulders, and he kisses down her chest to her breasts, sucking on the warm skin. She inhales, her nails tensing on his back, scrabbling over him.
After some time—minutes, dozens of minutes, he doesn’t know—she murmurs something near his ear, gasped words that slip through his brain.
He pulls back. She’s framed between his arms, her chest heaving and hair tangled over the pillow. He tries to find his breath again. His arms ache and light spills over her, pooling in her skin. She glows with it.
And he doesn’t even want to move, now. He just wants to stay here like this.
Her eyes crinkle as Jimmy holds himself there. She ghosts a hand over his cheek and finally repeats herself: “Why did we stop doing this?”
He rolls his hips again slowly. He doesn’t know. He didn’t think it had anything to do with him. “I have . . . no idea . . .” he gasps.
Her brow furrows. “Well, let’s not stop doing this, okay?” she says, and she stretches up to kiss him, hands firm on his face.
Jimmy laughs against her lips. “What?” he says, trying to replay her words.
But Kim just reaches down to his hips, tugging him closer, so he presses into her harder. He nudges the back of her thighs with his palms, and she gets it immediately, wrapping her legs around his waist.
The feeling empties his lungs. He squeezes his eyes shut then forces them open again. He feels enveloped by her, and he buries his forehead into the crook of her shoulder and drives into her, deeper and deeper.
Kim’s legs tighten around him. Her torso burns against his, hot pressure that carves through him, that seems to sculpt him into a new shape. Her hands move from his arms to the sides of his ribcage to his back, touching every part of him as if she can’t hold him enough, either—as if she’s worried he’s gonna vanish.
He lifts himself up enough to get a hand between them, damp and slick, and he rubs circles. Kim tenses again, and she arcs her neck back, and he watches her, watches her throat flex and her eyes squeeze shut. Her hands on his biceps tighten and tighten, and then she runs her palms up to his face, back down again to clench in the bed.
She tugs the sheet taut, then releases it, stretching one arm above her head. Her other joins it, and she overlaps her wrists.
Jimmy inhales. His movements falter for a second, his hips jerking. Kim tightens around him and his breath hitches again, loud and raspy in his ears.
Her eyes flash open with the sound, holding his gaze darkly, dark and burning.
He pins her wrists down, one hand covering both of hers. She presses up into him harder than before, her hips writhing, meeting him. He kisses her greedily, tasting smoke and amber and fire.
Let’s not stop doing this, she’d said, and he thinks, no, never, never stop.
Later, Jimmy steps out of the dark bathroom, his feet soft on the carpet.
Kim stands near her dresser. She dips her head, brushing her hair smooth over her shoulders. She’s wearing an old baseball tee: Kansas City. He’s seen it before, but not for a long time. The hem hangs at the top of her bare thighs, rising as she lifts her arms to gather her hair.
He lingers in the doorway.
Kim’s cheeks are still pink, a flush that runs down beneath her shirt. He can feel the warmth over his own body, too. He wipes his thumb over his mouth and finally moves into the bedroom. He finds his boxers on the carpet and pulls them back on, then shuffles around to his side of the bed.
The clock glows on the nightstand. It’s late in the evening, but nowhere near as late as it feels. It should be the middle of the night, he thinks, the whole world asleep except for the two of them, here, in her apartment.
He bends, hunting through his mess of clothes. He tugs his undershirt free from his pink button-up, then tosses the button-up back on the chair. A bright pop of color. He slides his arms into his gray shirt, settling it around his chest carefully, as if he can stop it from sticking to the coating of aloe lotion from a bottle Kim unearthed from her bathroom cupboard.
The fabric sticks to him anyway. He can’t bring himself to care. He climbs back into the bed just as Kim returns to it. She slips under the covers and props herself against the headboard.
Jimmy settles lower than her, leaning against her chest.
Kim’s hand curls up around his head, fingers spreading through his damp hair.
He wipes his forefinger and thumb over his eyelids. He feels sleep tugging at him, threading itself into his skin with every slide of Kim’s fingertips, but he keeps his eyes open. It’s bright here, brighter than just the bedside lamps. Some other lightness seeps through the space, some accumulation of the orange haze from the blinds and the glowing yellow from the entryway.
The light seems to envelop him, rising like flames in his chest.
Outside the window, in the dark: a hot water heater burbling in an empty room; a lantern hissing in a black kitchen; cold puddles glittering in long alleyways. It all seems far away now, out there beyond the rippled blinds.
Kim makes a thoughtful noise, pulling him back to the bedroom. She says, “I don’t think I’d ever seen you in pink before.”
He looks over to the chair, where his button-up drapes like an empty skin. “That,” he says, “is what Harold Cumpston wears.”
He feels her chuckle. “Not Victor with a ‘k’?”
“Him, too,” Jimmy says.
Kim hums. Her fingers sweep his bangs back from his forehead. “Must be hard to keep track of so many people.”
Her words are light but they brush through him with sharp edges. “Yeah,” he murmurs. He slips his left hand out from beneath the covers. The signet ring is dark and empty on his pinky finger. He should take it off, but he doesn’t. He just rests his palm on the edge of Kim’s duvet, his skin pale against the red and gray pattern.
He doesn’t know who he is in Albuquerque; he doesn’t know what that person wears. No more double-breasted suits, like Tom Hagen eating food before a fancy tablecloth; no more Matlock white. And Slippin’ Jimmy is back in Cicero, buried along with his best friend. Rotting in a cemetery on South 53rd.
Kim picks up Jimmy’s hand from the covers.. Her fingers play with his, and he keeps his joins loose, pliable. She brushes her thumb over his palm, studying the lines like she hasn’t seen them in a long time and she needs to learn the new shapes.
She doesn’t touch the signet ring, and she doesn’t ask about it, but he knows she’s thinking of it.
Around them, the bedroom seems to reflect the light, the rose-colored splashes from the lamps. The walls and the ceiling glow pink and yellow and orange. And Jimmy thinks that his whole last decade has been spent finding these places with Kim. These warm bubbles where it’s just them, in a mailroom or a monument, floating together on her bed, shrouded in light.
He wants to stay here, awake, tangling his fingers with hers, watching their hands meld, but sleep comes anyway.
He wakes in the night. Streetlamps seep gold through the lace curtains. Kim is curled behind his back, her arm crooked over him, her hand dangling against his chest.
Her face presses between his shoulder blades.
He can feel her breath through his shirt—whispered dares meant only for him.
Jimmy’s yellow car is a lone bright spot in the wide parking lot the next morning. The resort is quiet now—no music, no laughter. Behind the buildings, the Sandias are pale with the dawn, soft browns and grays, like he’s looking at them through a frosted window.
He unlocks his passenger door. The handle is cold, the metal slick with dew. On the passenger seat wait his damp clothes, unmoved from where he threw them yesterday afternoon, in a rush to make it to the bar. He sorts through the stack, fingers brushing through damp fabric. His trunks haven’t dried properly.
He pulls them free from anyway, and the other of his new shirts.
The walk to the changing room is mundane, this time. A cleaner sweeps the tiles along the pool, and a pump hums beneath the blue water. Jimmy closes himself off from the hush, locking the slatted wooden door of the stall.
He strips out of his jeans again. He slides into his damp swim trunks and then throws on today’s shirt. Orange and red and black flowers fight on a beige backdrop.
The air feels close and humid, sticky with chlorine. Condensation fogs at the corners of the floor-length mirror, and Jimmy smears sunblock on his palm then spreads it down his chest. Another mundane thing, after yesterday.
He meets his eyes in the reflection. He can’t find new self he thought he had built anywhere in the mirrored image. He’s just a guy alone.
It feels like nothing here without her; it feels black and white.
Jimmy takes the job. The opportunity life is giving him, the chance that he’s grabbing. His name on a door and an office with an assistant and a ringing phone—and, it turns out, a fireplace. A cocobolo desk.
And an apartment. The complex is all smooth adobe, Pueblo Revival with black balconies overlooking a luminous blue pool. Jimmy pulls in the parking space with his number on it, and his Esteem looks woefully out of place among the line of sleek German imports.
Not for long, he thinks, swinging his keys into his palm.
The apartment smells like new furniture and plastic. The light switches stick when he presses them. He slips out of his shoes and walks softly through the living room. The television is enormous, one of those huge, modern flat screens. He turns it on and the local news greets him with plastic smiles.
Jimmy smiles back. He runs the faucet in the kitchen. He opens kitchen drawers and silverware gleams at him. The bright white fridge is empty and clean, humming gently.
He has a long shower in water that’s almost too hot to bear.
It’s late in the evening, but he changes into another one of his new suits anyway. Charcoal gray. His reflection looks younger than it has in ages, standing there in the mirrored version of his new bedroom, wet hair hanging down over his forehead. The walls are dark and the place smells slightly of carpet shampoo, some floral fragrance.
He straightens his shirt, tucking it into his belt.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s just the sunburn.
He sits on the end of his bed and calls Kim from his new cordless phone and he can feel her smile from all the way up here in Santa Fe, crackling down the long copper lines. As he listens, he leans back against the pillows and stares at the empty ceiling. Fresh paint.
The next day, he wakes before his alarm. He makes the drive back from Santa Fe with sleep in his eyes and the sun bleeding across the freeway, staining the mountains pinkish blue.
The Albuquerque signs flash as he passes them, the numbers counting down to zero. He approaches the exit for Corrales, the turn-off right there. Maybe, he thinks, the real Jimmy is still somewhere out there beyond the exit ramp, talking about everything he wants while the rain falls.
Ahead of him now, the freeway glitters with the morning. It feels like he’s driving through a dream.
In the dream, the dawn is chalk, the city pale shapes ahead.
And then the pale shapes become buildings, become drive-thru restaurants and diners. Become green trees and blue law offices and black parking garages. His tyres squeak over the ramps and he descends past flashing lights, red and blue and red and blue.
On the third level, he spots Kim’s green Eclipse, right where he knew it would be. He wheels into a space opposite it. He slams his door and trots the few steps over to the door that leads to the bank of elevators, through the long shadows of the parking garage, his footsteps ringing, and he’s Robert Redford again, watched by dark eyes.
The hallway outside the conference room is bustling, people hurrying through last minute conversations, assistants brushing between gaps to deliver documents. Clifford Main smiles at Jimmy and lifts a hand, in the middle of a low chat with Howard near the stairwell entrance.
Jimmy raises a hand back. Nobody else is looking much at him. They chatter as if nothing unusual is happening. He thinks he hears a mailcart passing somewhere out of sight, one of the wheels wobbling and squeaking on its axle.
And he pushes through the conference room doors.
Kim looks up at his entrance, and he smiles. Her eyes flick down his suit and then back, and she nods her head to the spot next to her.
“Morning, everyone—Kim,” he says lightly, passing behind her. His name is printed on the softbound handout in the spot beside her, and he draws the chair back and sits.
Kim smiles sideways at him and murmurs, “Do I need to call security?”
He snickers, sliding the yellow notepad out and tucking the top sheet back. She pours him a glass of water from the pitcher and slides it over to him, and he gives a low thanks.
The remaining people slowly filter into the conference room, though everyone else from Davis and Main settles on the other side of the table. Jimmy remembers the words drilled into the head from distributing binders years and years ago: visitors on the inside, we want to impress them with the view.
Howard calls everything down to order. Silence settles in the gaps. He cracks some corny joke and laughter bubbles faintly through the group then vanishes again. He talks about the case as if it belongs to him, as if they’ve been working on it together for years and years.
Jimmy’s shirt is tight around his chest and he inhales.
It’s the sunburn, he thinks again. It’s just the sunburn.
(You know I’m right, I know you know I’m right—)
He takes the cap off his pen and then immediately replaces it. He can feel the eyes on him, the eyes of these people who must know everything: know the voice of Chuck, know whatever rumors seeped through the blue corridors and hallways up here for the last ten years.
He draws his hand up to his mouth and nods slowly, and it feels like a performance because it is a performance, as Francis Scheff clears his throat and begins a droning summation of yesterday’s actions and today’s agenda and—
Warmth and pressure on his ankle. Kim brushes his foot with hers. She doesn’t pause or falter in her notetaking at all, and her eyes remained trained on Francis.
Jimmy presses back, shifting his foot closer.
He swallows. He uncaps his pen again, and this time he writes the date at the top of his page. He pretends to listen, picking up words here and there, noting them down.
Kim’s writing curls over her own paper, moving solidly, and she doesn’t look at him. She’s listening to Francis. Her performance is better than his.
Her forefinger strokes over the back of her neck, brushing her skin.
And suddenly Jimmy’s back in a crowded bar, music thrumming. He tastes tequila and feels Kim’s thigh against him, hears her laughter bubbling at his next story. In the darkness beneath it all she teases him, her foot stroking his foot.
She doesn’t look at him, not yet. He rubs his finger again his mouth, Zafiro Añejo on his lips, and he waits for the next whispered challenge, the next play in this game, as the meeting drones on and on.
Under the table, Kim’s touch is like a bare wire, dark ends sparking live current between them, electric.