I'm not who I used to be....The remark, whispered by a stranger on the street to Irene Kelly, becomes all the more unnerving when the newswoman realizes she knows the man. He's Lucas Monroe, her former college instructor who had looked forward to a brilliant future. Now he's a derelict in hiding, an unlikely suspect in blackmail and murder. What happened to Monroe's life strikes Irene as bizarre. But it's what happens to him in death that fills her with dread. Her long-lost mentor is found murdered, and whatever the picturesque town of Las Piernas is hiding has made some people very rich, very guilty, and very dangerous.
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December 31, 1995
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Excerpt from Remember Me, Irene by Jan Burke
His last address was his own body, and what a squalid place it was. Someone told me he cleaned up just before he died, and I now know it's true. But when I last saw him, the place was a mess.
He was sprawled on a bus bench, stinking of alcohol and urine, drooling in his sleep. He was an African American man, and while it was hard to guess his age, I judged him to be in his fifties. His skin was chapped and one of his cheeks was scraped and swollen, as if he had been in a fight. I took more than a passing interest in him: noted his matted hair, his rough beard, his rumbling snores, the small brown paper sack clutched to his chest like a prayerbook. The last prayer had been prayed out of it sometime ago, judgingby the uncapped screwtop bottleneck.
I stood to one side of the bench, studying him, thinking up clever phrases to make the readers of my latest set of stories on public transportation in Las Piernas smile at my description of my predicament, smile over coffee and cereal as they turned the pages of the Express at their breakfast tables. I would be ruthless to the Las Piernas Rapid Transit District -- perhaps call it the Rabid Transient District. My small way of repaying it for forcing me to be two hours late getting back to the paper.
I had been on buses all day. My back ached and my feet hurt, and one more ride would take me back to the Express. I was tired and frustrated. I felt a righteous anger on behalf of the citizens who had to use the system every day. I had yet to see a bus pull up at the time it was scheduled to make a stop. I could see exactly why the regular riders were angry. This was one day's story for me; for them it would mean being late to work, to doctors' appointments, to classes, to job interviews. One missed connection led to another, turning what was planned to be my four-hour, see-it-for-myself test ride into six hours of hell on wheels.
My series of rides had taken me all over the city, and the man before me now was not the first drunk I had encountered, not even the first sleeping drunk.
Perhaps the guilt I've felt since that day now colors my memory of my attitude at the time. There is, in any job that requires a person to observe other people and publish the observations, an aspect of being...well, a user. I used the man on the bench. Took notes on him.
He awoke suddenly, and I took a step back. Awake, he was a little more fearsome. He looked bigger. Stronger. He yawned, wiped a dirty sleeve across his face, and moved to a slumped sitting position. When he noticed me, he cowered away, tucking the bottle closer, eyeing me warily.
He was afraid of me. That startled me more than his abrupt awakening. I looked at the swollen cheek again as I stopped taking notes.
"Hello," I said, and stuffed my pen and notebook into the back pocket of my worn jeans. (No, I wasn't wearing high heels and a tight skirt. A day on buses. I do have a little sense left, even if I am still working for the Express.)