There once was a man named Regis. He lived in an apartment in Malibu that had a view of the ocean, and from his bedroom window he could see the lifeguard towers where every morning the lifeguards ran on the beach. He was good-looking and kept in shape and wore nice clothes, even though it didn’t really make sense how he could afford all that.
Regis got dressed and went to the kitchen. All he wanted was a cup of delicious Folgers Coffee to help him focus, but there were no clean mugs, and the sink was filled with dishes thanks to his roommate, Charlie. Regis sighed at the stack of dishes as Charlie came out of his room in a Hawaiian shirt, DayGlo shorts, and sandals.
“What are you doing up so early on a Saturday?” asked Charlie.
“It’s Wednesday,” said Regis.
“Wow,” said Charlie. “That must have been some party then.”
Regis thought he heard raucous laughter from somewhere.
“It’s your turn to do the dishes.”
“Pfff!” said Charlie. He bent his head into the sink and drank straight from the faucet. “We should have the cleaning woman come back. You don’t even want to see what happened in the hall closet.”
“The cleaning woman won’t come back after you slept with her and didn’t call her,” said Regis.
“Oh yeah,” said Charlie, fondly. “Rosa. She really knew her way around a shammy cloth.”
Somewhere in the distance echoed the faint sounds of hooting and applause.
Regis groaned. “Just get it done,” he said as he walked out.
Regis wished he could afford his own place so he wouldn’t need a slovenly roommate. A real friend would ask him to hang out more, ask him about his classes, throw out the moldy food in the fridge. But then again, without Charlie he’d have few friends left. Everyone he knew was getting married and moving away. He still wasn’t sure who he was, and these days it seemed impossible that something exciting would ever happen to him.
His mother was right: a creative writing degree was a waste of money, but now it was too late and it would be even more humiliating if he dropped out. He just had to get this done… his work, that is. He had to get to work.
In the parking garage, he was accosted by his neighbor, Mr. Belding, who’d been there more than a decade and never seemed to have anything better to do than chat about whatever was going on with people half his age.
“Hey there, champ! Off to work?”
“Yeah, and I’m running late.”
Regis tried to hustle past his neighbor to get to his car. He couldn’t come up with something to say every time he ran into this guy. People expect too much when they put you on the spot and force you to think of something. It’s not that easy to come up with clever dialogue.
“Say, did you catch the game last night?” said Belding.
Regis looked down and saw a dark red liquid on the ground beneath his car. He walked around to the other side and gasped. A hand was up against his tire, delicate, with blue fingertips. It was a woman’s body. She was dead. Murdered.
“Looks like you’re gonna be late,” said Mr. Belding, throwing on his sunglasses. “The driveway’s a bit slippery.”
The police came and took away the body. Regis gave a statement, and they said to call if he remembered anything else. Since there was blood on the car and they were still examining the scene, he had to take the bus to work. He hated taking the bus because it made him feel poor when he’d rather be driving the newly redesigned Mercedes-Benz E-Class, made to win the day with an elongated hood, modern wheel designs, and plenty of trunk space for whatever life throws at you; yes, if he had a choice, Regis would have the best… or nothing.
Regis had a job in sales at a struggling paper company with a boss who made terrible jokes and a cute receptionist who was engaged to a guy who always seemed to be the jerk boyfriend in every place you saw him. He sat at work, staring at his computer, but couldn’t come up with any ideas for the thing he’d been assigned. His boss, Mr. Brent, hadn’t said anything to him in two weeks. No one at work really talked to him. He’d gotten the job because of his uncle, and could tell his co-workers resented him because of it. He didn’t talk about his job much because he didn’t really know anything about sales. Maybe this was a dumb place for him to be working, but the decision had already been made, so now he had to stick with it; it was too late to go back and change it. He looked at sports news online and got some coffee.
Regis’ Uncle Victor was the most powerful businessman in the town of Salem, but he’d lost everything when his brother Deimos returned from prison after being framed for murder and ruined Victor. That was after Regis’ dad was kidnapped and his mom almost married Aiden, who was going to murder her on their wedding night, but then she was saved at the last minute by Bo, who then died, but it turned out Aiden had really been kidnapped by Stefano, and it was a double who had taken Aiden’s place that had tried to kill her, and then Hope went to jail for Stefano’s murder except Stefano is still alive. The days of their lives were very hard to keep up with if you didn’t read the synopses online. Anyway, his uncle got him the job, and this wasn’t what he wanted to be doing but he had no choice because Mom and Dad couldn’t pay his tuition anymore, so he was footing the bill himself, trying to get his writing done at work without his boss finding out.
He sat at his desk all morning, followed by lunch in the break room by himself, looking at texts from his girlfriend Tyra. She always abbreviated “U” in her texts as if that saved any time, and no matter how many times he corrected her, she still typed “your” when she meant “you’re.” All she did was go out to lunch with her friend Audrina where they would talk about boys and their fashion jobs that he was pretty sure they didn’t actually work at. He feared she would leave him and knew he disappointed her.
Regis went back to his boring task. If his parents hadn’t taken out a sub-prime mortgage with a variable interest rate that was sold as a bundled commodity, which financial experts say was the number-one investment mistake in the fall of Lehman Brothers, he wouldn’t have had to work there. All he wanted was not to end up like them, stuck in a job like this for the rest of his life. Sometimes he would just stare at his computer screen for half an hour, wondering what he was supposed to be. Nothing had really worked out how he’d wanted. He thought he’d have a college degree by now, or a meaningful career, or have been places like Chania, a small town on the island of Crete where the local delicacy is bougatsa, a breakfast pastry made by hand every day. He wanted to travel and write, live an exciting life, but that was probably never going to happen. He could never come up with any ideas and always just put everything off until the last minute. He stared on, flipping back and forth between things in his head and wondering why nothing good was on his mind.
His phone rang. It was the police. They wanted to question him.
“Where were you last night?” asked Detective Elton.
“At home,” said Regis. “I made myself some dinner with my Magic Bullet, worked out, and went to bed.”
“You went to the gym?”
“No, I do P90X. It’s a revolutionary system for working out at home. Millions of people have changed their lives by getting in shape in just three months.”
“You went to bed early?” asked the other cop, Detective Orbach.
“That’s interesting,” said Det. Orbach, “because we interviewed some of the neighbors, and they said there was noise coming from your apartment until two in the morning.”
Regis knew what this was. It was the people who lived upstairs, constantly stomping around. They would have parties during the week, play loud music and yell with no respect for the fact that downstairs was someone on a deadline who had to finish something right now.
“We found traces of Cyprodinil and Iprodione in the girl’s toxicity report. Do you know what that is?”
“No,” said Regis.
“Didn’t you originally major in biochemistry?”
“Yes, but my grades slipped too much after I had to start working full-time to pay for school, so I couldn’t double major anymore. I probably picked the wrong major; this one is a waste of money. I wanted to be a forensic crime scene analyst, but now I’m hoping to be a TV writer.”
“A forensic crime analyst,” said Det. Orbach. “Like on that show.”
“Yeah,” said Regis. “I wish I could write for them. I could come up with stuff way better than what they do.”
“Uh-huh,” said Det. Elton, writing all this down on a pad of paper. “So you know how a murderer might think?”
Regis started sweating. “No. I mean, I can always tell how fake the stuff on those shows is, but I would have no idea what those chemicals do. I’ve never heard of them.”
The detectives seemed like they didn’t believe him. They let him go, but told him not to leave town. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to think hard and remember what he’d seen that morning, but it was all a blur, like when Batman got hit with that nerve toxin stuff and then got set on fire and fell off that building and Alfred had to call Lucius to save him.
Regis went home, changed into more comfortable clothes, and grabbed a beer from the fridge, a delicious Lagunitas IPA. He was stressed out because of seeing a murder that morning, and also because the White House had just announced its new budget would include significant reductions in tax credits for renewable energy. There were major things going on in the world, and he was stuck trying to work out this stupid thing.
He paced around for a while and then sat down to write – that is, he wrote out the facts of the case. It sucked. There is nothing worse than sitting there trying to come up with a decent idea when you’ve got nothing. People should have more sympathy for how tough it is to think of ideas and not be so critical all the time. He was frustrated, pacing around and checking the locks just like that guy with OCD who washed his hands with a new bar of soap every time he touched anything and brought his own plastic utensils to the diner where he ate every day.
He took a break, got dinner, and watched the first half of the game. It was so good; a Del Taco Epic Steak & Potato Burrito was exactly what he needed to reset his creativity. “Now, where was I?” he thought. He saw that Tyra had called, but he didn’t call her back because he knew he had to focus.
He and Tyra had been on completely different paths since she’d graduated and got hired by that fancy Beverly Hills real estate firm. Tyra was an upper-class girl who’d had a fancy party for her Sweet 16 where she got a Camaro and got super upset because her parents let her archenemy from school into the party. She read gossip magazines and bored him by talking about things like how Harry has a new girlfriend and you won’t believe who it is.
Tyra was ready to settle down, have a family, take the kids to Disneyland to see the fireworks spectacular on now through August 31st. It’s not that Regis didn’t care about those things, but the only way to have them would be to stop writing and focus on making more money, possibly by taking courses at DeVry in Accounting, Business, Healthcare, Technology, Liberal Arts, or Media Arts & Technology.
Regis didn’t think he’d have to give up on his dreams while he still felt so young, but if seeing the world and following his passion meant being all alone, he wasn’t sure if he had the courage to do it. Tyra didn’t understand because she never paid attention to what he said, just like the goddamn Lakers who leave Klay wide open in the corner every single possession. It made him so fucking mad he couldn’t watch it sometimes. Also, Tyra lived in a house with six strangers and they fought all the time and went out to clubs and got drunk and bitched in the confessional room.
Regis went back over what he’d written down about the case, but he still couldn’t come up with anything good. Time was ticking and he had to get this done in time to submit it to the detectives. He was super tired, and wished he had a 5-hour Energy to get an amazing energized feeling with no 2:30 feeling later. He hadn’t texted. He decided to drink another beer so it would get him thinking. It was going to be a long night and the assholes upstairs were already making noise again.
While he drank, he remembered some of the good times he’d had. He and his friends used to meet at the bar every day when they first started working, laughing and trying to find Ted a girlfriend. He had another friend who was addicted to Oxycontin and they had to stage an intervention for him.
Once he and his best friend had hitched all the way to San Francisco with no money, spent a week with just their backpacks, crashing on strangers’ couches, that girl with dark brown eyes who wanted to leave with him but he couldn’t afford a hotel, orange wristband on her arm, low lights in the bar, life just beginning, every word he said ringing with the possibility that it might come true. Where did that time go? The claws of everyday strangled harder and harder until that was it, and if he’d known those days would be so short he would have lived them harder.
Sometimes he got so tired of hearing the same stories he’d heard a hundred times before, like his neighbor shaving with butter or his principal trying to pass off fast food as his own cooking. His friends didn’t care how predictable they’d become. The stories they told were further and further in the past, repeated so often he was sick of them.
Dad used to say money should never be why you do things, but now he was 65 and working at a computer store. It was hard going back home, facing everyone’s questions about when he’d be graduating, if he’d written anything, classmates with kids and mortgages and the real lives he’d foregone, for what he didn’t know anymore.
His grandfather had worn a gold watch every day of his life, snapping it on in his white undershirt, how it reflected the sunlight every time he turned his wrist. When he’d graduated high school, the old man had taken it off his arm right there in the auditorium and handed it to him, saying, “I want you to keep this to remember where you came from, because I know you’re going to go on to do great things.” He’d lost the watch on vacation in Colorado, and didn’t tell Tyra how upset he was because they were new and he couldn’t let her see him like that. They spent four nights alone in that cabin, her scent his key to a meaning he’d never known before.
When Grandpa died, he wept like a child. Tyra almost seemed put off, disappointed, stiffened back facing away from him all night. She didn’t go back with him for the funeral; his parents had still never met her. He hated being weak. Men weren’t supposed to cry, even at touching stories about a six-year-old cancer patient allowed to take the field during the spring game and score a touchdown while the whole crowd cheered.
He and Tyra never took trips anymore to places like Shanghai to see that elderly artisan guy who still handcrafts the noodles in that little room, or to Chile where they drink pisco by the beach. He should quit his job, go to Europe like he’d always wanted, because fuck it, you’re going to die one day and none of this matters. What could he do to make the longing of everyday emptiness subside?
Regis fell asleep for a couple hours and woke up groggy. He looked over everything that had happened and decided it was pretty good and to just keep going since he didn’t have much time left.
He thought again about seeing the body that morning. He re-ran the whole episode in his mind, and his memory zoomed in on the blue fingertips the girl had, the blood flowing out from under the car. The answer flashed in front of him and he remembered what he needed to say.
He called the detectives and met them at the crime lab. The blood had still been trickling from the girl when he saw her, meaning she hadn’t been lying there long. So why were her fingertips blue? Something must have made them blue. With help from the goth girl who ran the crime lab, he learned that the two chemicals that they’d found, Cyprodinil and Iprodione, were pesticides used frequently in the growing of blueberries. Her fingers had turned that color from picking berries, and she’d been poisoned with chemicals at the farm. Once the detectives figured out that her friend, the guy who’d secretly been in love with her and looked a lot like the brother from Home Alone, had a family-owned blueberry farm, they arrested him on the spot for poisoning her after she’d rejected his sexual advances. He admitted to everything right away. Case closed.
Regis returned home after turning in his work, exhausted. Sometimes there are life and death situations, and we’re forced to deal with them as we struggle through existence, lost in the wheel of fortune that is our lives. But he’d known that the case would be solved because they always solve the case; nothing just exists never to be figured out. People would be pissed if a mystery dragged on for six years and then in the end it didn’t make any sense and nothing about the island ever got explained.
Regis was exhausted after being up all night trying to get this done. Sometimes it seems like there’s no reason to work hard since no one will notice anyway. He still didn’t know if this was what he really wanted to do. He’d always been told he had a lot of potential, but something was always missing, like he wasn’t living his life, just waiting for it to start.
Regis got in bed and flipped on the T.V. There was a story about an oil rig that had caught fire, but he didn’t want to look at something urgent and serious. He just wanted something to take his mind away, distract from all that was wrong today and would still be wrong tomorrow. There had to be something here worth looking at; he had 150 channels of dramatic, interesting stories, and compared to all that, his life seemed totally boring.
Gregg Maxwell Parker is the author of the middle grade book Troublemakers and the grown-up novels The Real Truth and Murder, She Vaped: The Ironic T-Shirt Caper. Find more of his work at greggmaxwellparker.com.