Trigger Switch

Chapter One

I met Dutchy Kent at a bar in Long Island City an hour after I flew in from Detroit. It was nasty, the kind of place I didn’t know even existed anywhere in the twenty-first century anymore, let alone somewhere as overpriced as New York City. He led me into a narrow wood paneled alley where two people could barely stand next to each other facing the back wall. We took the two seats at the end furthest from the door and ordered beer. I half expected to see the bartender draw our drinks from a tap with a generic black and white handle that just said BEER.

Instead, he opened two cans of PBR, poured them into mason jars, and slid them down to us. It didn’t take long after that to realize we were in a hipster bar and it looked like this on purpose. I took a long gulp of the beer and enjoyed the ironic flavor until Dutchy gave the bartender a twenty and didn’t get any change back.
I’d been to shitty bars around Detroit where that could have bought an entire round. Not these days. And not downtown anymore. But a few years ago someplace like Taylor or Melvindale where they still had guys who worked in the auto plants making okay money. What the hell did anyone do around here that they could pay ten dollars for a beer but had to live in a shitty apartment building on a street that smelled like toasted garbage and electric pee?

Dutchy sucked his beer down in one long gulp and ordered another. And a shot of whiskey. And a cheeseburger. He never asked if I wanted anything. I never wondered what I would have said if he had asked. I just sipped my beer and waited for Dutchy to say something to make this all worthwhile.

Dutchy had been an asshole to me in high school, as he was to most of us in the class who didn’t quite know what to make of someone appearing on our televisions Saturday mornings and then showing up for homeroom on Monday. But by college his brief career as a child star had come to an end and we’d bonded over pulp novels and our disdain for the rest of our classmates. We maintained something of a friendship, even though he had a nasty temper, a penchant for mean-spirited—and often dangerous—practical jokes, and the tendency to get us both into heaps of trouble. We lost touch over the years until our relationship was reignited over the internet. He’d read my first novel and loved it and emailed me to find out if it was really me, because he never believed I had any talent. We emailed back and forth, became Facebook friends briefly, and then a week ago he’d emailed me a script based on one of my published short stories. He said he wanted to put it on in New York City to help revive his acting career.

The whole thing sounded too much like one of his epic shitstorms, but I was desperate to get out of Detroit, out of Michigan, and away from my ex-wife’s family who claimed they didn’t hold a grudge for me murdering her, but I wasn’t exactly sold on their change of heart.

“It’s been ages, man,” he finally said. “I can’t believe we’re still here. You know?”

“Still alive you mean?”

“Still alive, man,” he said, pushing the plate away from him. “Alive in the spirit. Alive in the arts. Alive in our dreams.”

“Oh, right. I guess.”

“Look around, man. Look at the saps out there going to a job. Cashing a check. Riding the train. Living their bullshit.”

“Ten-dollar beers, man,” I said, holding my mason jar high. “Gotta do something to keep ’em coming.”

“I don’t know. It all seems so…I just don’t know man. I couldn’t do it.”

I nodded and bit my tongue. I didn’t want to argue. I just wanted another beer and a sign that things weren’t as shitty as I suspected they were.

“Which makes this all even harder,” Dutchy continued.

“All what?”

He pushed the rest of his dishes down the bar so there was nothing in front of him but a wet napkin. He balled the napkin up in his hand and held it out to me.

“All of this.”

“Is this a metaphor?”

“It’s a reality. It’s all we have left.”

“You gotta give me a little more here. I’m not—”

“We’re busted. Broke. Done.”

“The show?”

“The theater. All of it.”

“Well shit,” I said. “That would have been good to know before now.”


He looked away from me and stared down the other end of the bar for a while.

“So what are we going to do?” I asked. “My flight doesn’t leave for another week and I don’t have the money to change it.”

“I do have some ideas.”

The way he said it, the tone, put me off. It wasn’t right. It was planned. It was rehearsed. He was playing me. I waited for him to keep talking. I wanted to see how far he was willing to go.

“Are you in?”

I nodded, sort of. I still didn’t say anything though. So he kept talking. I used to have a problem keeping my mouth shut, and it never failed to come back around and kick me in the ass. Dutchy rambled for almost half an hour before he said something that made sense.

“There’s some money,” he said. “Some money that went missing from the theater that I’ve been looking for. If we can find that, and I’m close, I just need a…I need a partner, someone with some life experience in this stuff, if you know what I mean, but if we can find this cash, we’ll be set up right.”

“This is bullshit,” I said. “I’m out.”

“That’s no way to look at this,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “You’re missing the opportunity in it all. The chance to—”

I shrugged his hand off my shoulder and stood up. “You’re an asshole. You dragged me all the way out here under this bullshit notion of my New York theater debut but all you really need is a stooge.”

“This isn’t just about you, Dominick. This is about me. We’re both on our last outs here and I don’t have anybody else I can bring in from the bench.”

“I’m sure you think you’re tapping into an emotional vein with that baseball talk,” I said. “What with you and me being old college buddies and such, right?”

“It’s the truth, man.”

“The truth,” I said, squatting down to his eye level and leaning in as close as I could to his face without touching it, “is that the last guy I buddied up with was a serial killer who murdered at least three people before my ex-wife blew him away in an alley. So excuse me if I don’t tear up at your fucking nostalgia trip and jump headfirst into this stupid scheme that is likely to get both of us killed.”


“I needed an escape,” I said. “And you fucked that up.”

I left the bar with the cockiest and toughest swagger I could muster and made it two blocks toward my hotel before I collapsed into a heap on the sidewalk and started crying. Nobody paid me any attention and I was able to work out my shit in relative peace before trying to figure out what my next move would be.

The first step was to get back to my hotel room where I had a lock, a television, a hot shower, and a bed. I stripped to my underwear and got under the covers and passed out. When I woke up, Judge Judy was yelling at someone about being responsible for what her son did in their neighbor’s yard. I didn’t feel great, but I felt rested, something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Between the nightmares and flashbacks of the violence I’d seen the last couple of years—and the brand new fear of my in-laws coming to whack me—sleep had been rare and fitful at best. But in a new city, a city of millions of people that made it easy to hide, I slept like a drugged lab monkey. A long hot shower finished off the revitalization, and by the time I flopped onto the bed again, this time as Dr. Oz was leading a group of overweight housewives through a comically large digestive system set, I felt a flicker of optimism. A flicker bright enough to grab the tourism guide off the desk next to the bed and flip through it looking for something to do.

Something in the city.

The real New York City.

I skipped down the steps, out of the hotel, and up the two blocks and over the one block to the Queensboro Plaza subway station. It felt weird calling it the subway because I had to climb two flights of stairs and cross the street to get to the platform, but once I was near the tracks, everything looked like it did in the movies. It was loud and weirdly cold and smelled like oil and garbage. The mix of people standing around waiting for the next train was staggering in its diversity. I made my way over to the big map of the subway lines and after a few disorienting moments, I figured out where I was going. When the 7 train pulled into the station, I jumped on with everyone else and waited for my adventure to begin.

There was far more wobbling and screeching than I would have expected and soon we were plunged underground into darkness with the train speeding up and slowing down at random intervals. I listened, fascinated, as the automated voice over the loudspeaker announced stop after stop. Subtle is not my natural state of being but I tried very hard not to stare as I ran my eyes up and down the seats evaluating my fellow riders. There were more families than I expected and more normal-looking people. I had assumed everyone would be fabulous and vaguely famous, but there were enough frumpy and goofy-looking people that made me feel at home.

They all looked so natural on the train though, and I tried to be natural but was too aware of myself. So I embraced my tourist self, hoping my luck wasn’t rotten enough to get mugged twice in one day. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway though, because when I finally emerged from the subway up through the Times Square/42nd Street station into the magical bubble of lights and sound and electricity that made up the crossroads of the world, any hope I had of looking natural blew away.

And I could not have cared less. It was amazing. I slowly spun around with my head tilted as far back as it would go, trying to absorb as much of it as possible as quickly as possible. I could feel the renewal like my spirit had been waiting for this moment my entire life. I briefly felt validated in all my efforts, good, bad, or inexplicable, to get to that city and wondered if maybe there was a chance my life could turn out right. In fact, I felt so good that I expected a thunderstorm to pop up or someone to stick a gun in my ribs. But the worst that happened was I was jostled around by a pack of tourists just like me whose necks didn’t go as far back as mine did.

And then I saw Elmo doing the electric slide with Iron Man and I felt even better. I finally stopped spinning and made my way to the bright red set of bleachers smack dab in the middle of the street to see what that was all about. I climbed to the top of the narrow bleachers and found myself with an even better view of the whole area. My body was vibrating as I tried to decide what to do next. There were all the restaurant chains and store chains we had at malls back home but that seemed like a waste of the energy of Times Square. I was hungry again and thought about getting something from one of the food carts, but I was paralyzed by excitement and couldn’t move so I stared for a while longer. When my senses were so overloaded that they blew me back to reality, I exited the bleachers to go and see what was around back.

I was in New York City for my stage debut but the truth was I had never seen a play before—well, nothing beyond the odd community theater massacre of Rodgers and Hammerstein—and I figured it was about time. My budget was limited so I couldn’t afford any of the big ticket shows but while I was staring at the big electronic board listing all of the shows waiting for a sign, someone handed me a flyer for a play called Perfect Crime offering tickets for twenty-five dollars. I bought a ticket for the two p.m. matinee that started in fifteen minutes, watched the show, and halfway through figured out what I was going to do with Dutchy.

The play was awful, but I loved the experience. The theater was a few blocks up from the TKTS booth across from another giant Applebee’s and next to a closed strip club called Bare Essence and an open sex toy store called Mixed Emotion. I was disappointed by the lack of imagination in the naming but excited to be in one of the last vestiges of Times Square’s grimy peep show era that had been immortalized in my mind from too many viewings of Taxi Driver and NYPD Blue. There was a group of us standing just outside of the theater waiting to be called back in after the intermission was over. Some were smoking, some were analyzing the clues from the play, and a few of us were fidgeting, wondering how best to walk away without looking rude. One of them was a girl I guessed to be about my age dressed casually, not like part of the theater crowd. We’d made eye contact a few times before the show started. The front row of the theater, where all the discount ticket holders were put, had the feeling of a freshman campus mixer because we were bonded together and different from the rest of the folks around us. When she caught my gaze again, she came over to me.

“New York Fucking City,” she said, waving her hand in the air.

“Aren’t you New Yorkers all supposed to be jaded and cynical?”

“I’m from Michigan. Just moved here last week to be a writer.”

“Huh,” I said.

A year ago I would have been jealous of her. I would have rambled endlessly about my own Michigan background and my own writing dreams and my own writing projects. But right then I just hoped to god she wouldn’t ask me where I was from and what I was doing in the city. Lucky for me she seemed content to continue talking about herself.

“I work at a different theater, over in Brooklyn, doing accounting work believe it or not. I know that may seem like a silly job for a writer, but I’m good with numbers and who wants to be another cog at some shitty online magazine or get coffee for some bullshit publisher in Brooklyn, right?”

“Yeah. Sure. I get it,” I said.

I waited until the office manager called us back in and broke off from the crowd right before entering, but as I turned, I saw the girl I’d been talking to following me.

“Hey, I’m Bianca,” she said, holding her hand out as she sped up her pace to catch up with me. “You’re not one of the regulars here are you?”


I stopped walking, but she continued toward me tripping on the sidewalk and falling into me so hard she knocked us both into the wall. As she pushed off of me, her mouth was close enough to my face that I could smell wintergreen gum on her breath. Her hands pushed off of my waist and crotch in a way that I was almost certain was supposed to be seductive, but before I could respond, she had been absorbed by a passing crowd and I headed back toward Times Square, confused and exhilarated.

There was so much more I wanted to look at and to experience, but the first half of the play and my conversation with Dutchy had shaken loose my devious side, and I wanted to get to work. Just as I reached the subway station to head back to Queens, it started pouring rain and I noticed my phone and my wallet were gone. I rushed back to the theater to see if they’d fallen out of my pocket during the show, but that seemed silly. My wallet had been in my back pocket despite my mother’s paranoid warning before I left, and I would never, ever, live that down. In her long and rambling pre-trip lecture she had recommended I keep my wallet in my front pocket so no one could pickpocket me and that I keep my wad of emergency cash in my shoe because muggers never ask anyone to take off their shoes to check for money.
It was still raining when I got off the train. I remembered seeing a cyber café nearby and was able to find the place just before the rain soaked me completely through. I gave the cashier a five-dollar bill from my sock emergency fund in exchange for three hours of internet access and thought I might have overpaid until I realized how slow the computers were and that it could take the entire three hours for me to log into my email.

I could have logged into my Apple account to get the full picture of where my phone was, but that site was slow to load on my good computer, so I went with the simplest option and logged into Gmail. I had three emails waiting for me from my phone. The last location logged had been a block from where I was at the theater at almost the same time I’d been there. Either I was in a weird romantic comedy and this was part of our meet-cute, or whoever stole my phone was following me. I immediately thought of the woman who bumped into me outside of the theater.

I sat back and folded my arms behind my head in a very dramatic thinking gesture wondering how to play this. A new move presented itself though when an email came in from my phone. The location logged was the café where I was sitting.

* * *

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