Bryan Alston Patrick

“This is back in nineteen-ninety-something. All these cats are living in an abandoned old house with stolen electricity and occasionally running water.” And by cats he means human beings or a close subspecies thereof as they’re often treated. Somebody nicknames the place Squatemala—blurts it out one night in a haze of psychedelics. It sticks fast and hard.

Pretty soon, everyone in town has heard the nickname. Parties over there are famous and terrifying. College kids from the co-ops that aren’t radical enough show up there. High school kids hear about it from them and now they’re crashing too, along with much older heads who should have done something with their lives long ago. Drugs are dealt, of course, from the shit that’s popular in clubs to completely experimental molecules the chemistry majors are cooking up outside lab hours.

The social and chemical experiments give birth to artistic and musical experiments. Every wall is a canvas covered in either predictable graffiti murals of the day or by stylistic departures mixing post-impressionist depth with airbrushed street whim. The strongest work comes from former MFA candidate Sara Tonen. She was the darling of academia before dropping out. Decades later, a retrospective of her career ties her early works to the music of Dylsnik, the one band from Squatemala to land an indie record deal.

Several duos, trios and quartets came and went from the squat. Briefcase Buttplug, Atomic Situp, Coitus and Red Dawn Chong made noise but never made it past the backyard. Dylsnik made serious music out of recycled garbage.

Singer-songwriter Sam Snide penned hook-lined two-minute haters you couldn’t fight out of your head with an identity disorder. He wrote the original—now classic—eponymous debut five song EP in two or three days, depending on which amateur historian is recounting the legend.

The record is so jagged edged and under-produced it takes years for rock critics and PhD candidates to unpack it. Months after its release, Sam covers a few songs by Metallica, Black Flag and Minor Threat, puts them all together on a goof EP called Squat ‘Em All. Despite or because of the absence of expectations, it jumps off.

This is the second summer at Squatemala when everyone is talking about how much doper the first summer was so if you’re just showing up now “you haven’t seen Squatemala.” Different cliques splinter, some longing for the lost authenticity of last summer, others praising its evolution and still others just being present, reacting to what’s what.

Squatemala will survive two more summers but this is the last one for Sam and Sara, the two artistic giants making the place what it really is. They had a little fling thing off and on for a while but this is the summer that Sam falls in love with Biff Loco. He’s the kid from a nice home in the west side hills who went off the trails. His psychology is ambiguous because there isn’t anything conspicuously off about his childhood or early adolescence. Neither of his parents was an alcoholic or physically abusive. Sam calls him the “natural born thriller,” fully deserving of his street name.

“I was really trying to find myself.” Loco tells a gallery intern years later, giving him something to hang next to a black and white photo in the Sara Tonen retrospective. In it, he’s slouching drowsily, post-orgy, naked and satisfied in a beat-up recliner lifted from bulk pickup. “I know that sounds stupid but back then being gay was beyond rebellious. People don’t believe me that I had to go that far to find a home but it’s really the truth.”

Biff Loco is not his real name but he insists on using it for the show because his life is very different now. Good job. Nice boyfriend. All the right moves.

Back then he was one of the craziest kids around. Sam was chilled out by comparison and that is saying something. They were way into each other. Originally, Loco was playing bass in Briefcase and Dylsnik but Sam is a better bassist and switches, wanting someone other than Biff on guitar. That winds up being Becca Slot from the defunct lesbian hardcore act, Gash.

After she joins, Dylsnik really takes off. They do the first two EPs. Loco stays on with Briefcase (who drop the Buttplug in a last chance grab at legitimacy on the local music scene that almost works) and begins making all kinds of performance art videos.

The most famous one is “Self-Portrait” in which he videotapes himself twice at the same time: once in the flesh and again on the playback monitor of camera one. So the final video has this chewed up underground porn tape quality about it. In it, he’s sitting on one of those found Squatemalan wicker chairs, reading a coverless library book in black underwear with white stripes that capture form, gradually getting aroused and you can sort of guess the autoerotic rest. For reasons they wouldn’t explain or admit, other people got into watching this thing and talking about it.

“Self-Portrait” was made pre-digital but some preservationist from the era made sure it was available for the retrospective. Now Loco has to answer for it. He handles it well, reminding the intern “it was an experimental time. Many of us were taking chances artistically and otherwise.”

The show is really about painting but people keep drifting over to this small black and white photo of a young woman with dark and light hair lying on her side next to a tangle of sheets on a bare mattress, propped on one elbow in a pair of baggy denim cutoffs, that iconic black RUN DMC shirt and light colored tube socks knee-high with dark strips around the top. Her eyes are sleepy and curious. Her expression is both alluring and bored. She appears to be wearing no makeup. A tattoo of something with a tail or tentacle on her upper right thigh pokes out just an inch or so beyond the frayed leg of her cutoffs. Someone else’s clothes are visible on the bed with her. A moth-eaten keyboard scarf looks out of place—or perhaps placed—snaking under her left calf in a way that looks at a glance like her sock might be unspooling. A pair of striped thrift store pants are wadded half inside-out behind her next to an orphaned necktie way too wide for the time, draped across a pizza box, crossing out the word “PIZZA” next to the word “SUIZA” in classic nineties block print that would have been at home on the cover of an early Soundgarden album. On the metal folding chair doubling as a nightstand there’s a battery-powered lantern next to a ridiculously giant dildo with scraps of paper bushing around the scrotal base next to a whorled stack of used paperbacks teetering on the edge of collapse. On the wall behind the bed is an ironically placed Lamborghini poster in a lightweight frame purchased at a Spencer’s Gifts or Hastings Records & Tapes.

The title on the card next to the photo: Kiwi ’96. The allure of this photo is hard for anyone to explain. Loco tries, of course, rediscovering his love for answering questions.

“She was really something,” has a little too much wistful effort on it. “I think she moved in toward the end of that first summer. I’m not sure who she knew there.”

Where did she get the name Kiwi? Do you know?

“Maybe she moved in with it or Sam gave it to her. He was always naming people. And things.”

It could be the tiny smile curling in the left corner of her mouth, hinting at satisfaction or hiding discomfort; her gaze slightly downward, not really looking away or at the camera; the worn leather bracelet on her left wrist, underlining the crease where her hand supports her head, a girder and a friend that’s been there for a long ride in few years. Kiwi’s curves are soft and free of athletic influence. Her sensuality is unmediated.

Man, she is really foxy. What was she like?

“Her mystery is intact.” Sara says when asked to say something about the photograph that’s stealing the spotlight from her paintings, drawings and collages. “She was really something.”

Think she’ll be here tonight?

“I doubt it.” Sara says as clamor near the entrance interrupts her.

Sam Snide is rolling in boozed up and maybe coked to the gills. He’s that beat up local legend whose current impact comes from how much fatter, older and sadder he looks in person now by comparison to all those dope old photos depicting him skinny, young and effortlessly stylish—impossibly cool with no contrivance at all despite all the contrivance with the dark longish hair, the smooth pale skin, the trend defiant clothes, that old Fender bass, same one Sting played in The Police, the camera angles, staging of locations, carefully placed scrims and bounce cards, digital retouching and graphic design—hours, days and even weeks of work going into creating those raw, impromptu moments that give the listener the sense of casual, friendly familiarity with the artist as he or she checks out the jacket art while listening to the songs and drifting off on escapist narratives about shared pain.

Sam is the guy who sits through the in-store retrospective box set signing like it’s beneath him when really it’s all those shocked to mildly uncomfortable facial expressions coming at him, one after another, behind the disdainful vibe.

The gallery space is brand new in a retrofitted warehouse. It’s edgy and badass and all that with cacophonous acoustics. Upon Sam’s entrance, the noise level spikes all over. Normal conversations are impossible to have for the ten minutes or so during which the decibel level continues.

You really don’t think she’ll be here tonight?

Sara winces from the question shouted into her ear. The way she shakes her head answers it emphatically and precludes any follow-ups. She’s off to somewhere else in the gallery, spotting a cute young fan with red and magenta hair and a t-shirt chopped to pieces, revealing her bra and several transdermal piercings on her chest. She is the offspring of Sara’s era and she’s wearing the smile that’s still real under way too much enthusiasm. Sara shoots a parting glance at Kiwi ’96 like maybe including it was a mistake.

Sam is tied up with his admirers and skeptics in front of a big fanned out photo spread on its own wall mostly consisting of pictures of him and Becca Slot from the shoots for Dylsnik’s label debut on Amphetamine Reptile. Drummer Tommy Bark pops up in less than a third of the photos. Sara shot all of it. Her proofs and contact sheets join the key set for Am-Rep PR and the final shots picked for the album, which are many. Sam and Becca were both huge Police fans back in the day and they wanted a collage style inner sleeve design similar to Zenyatta Mondatta. The front cover is a sleek chrome vibrator leaning diagonally from corner to corner in a not-all-that-subtle reference to The Velvet Underground & Nico. The title of Dylsnik’s first full-length LP is Full Length.

It’s impossible to hear what Sam is actually saying about it unless you’re standing right in front of him. He’s nodding about this or that. His mouth opens for a few terse syllables at a time, flashing teeth stained with red wine and tobacco and maybe a pipe hit or two right before showing up.

Meanwhile, Loco is still talking to anyone about anything.

“Kiwi, yeah.” Loco takes a deep audible breath like this topic really weighs on him in a way that should already be understood. “I would love to see her. I know a lot of people here would.”

She was well liked?

“Oh yeah.” Loco turns to the photo again, daydreaming into it. “Pretty much everyone dug Kiwi.”

Especially the guys I bet?

“Yep.” Says Loco with a little sigh on the end. “They sure did.”

Too bad she won’t be here. It would be awesome to get her account of things, specifically the day this picture was taken.

“Ask Sara.”


Too many people are stuffed in the gallery, mingling in a slowly rotating ooze that eventually repositions Sam within visual range of both Loco and Kiwi ’96. This thing happens on his face that struggles to capture the unexpected satisfaction of answered longing and something else along the lines of heartbreaking regret. Deep creases in his forehead and pockmarks on his cheeks speak before his mouth opens. Redness makes it through the boozy, puffy numbness, filling in his ghostly pallor. Sam is an R-rated coloring book.

Loco has taken care of himself over the years. It’s hard to believe the two men are close enough in age to have ever been young lovers. Loco is clear-eyed and fit in clothes that make sense. Sam is all banged up and trying too hard in clothes that only accentuate his age in attempt to reverse it.

Seconds tick by before the two men embrace and then more seconds tick by until people are noticing, including Loco’s current boyfriend, Andy, marketing consultant to the start-ups on Silicon Hill, handsome, together, wealthy, and suddenly uncomfortable in what plays for him like the anarchist equivalent of a college reunion where partners and spouses become strangers for one night. Andy takes a step and a half toward Loco and Sam before pivoting for the still open bar to re-up on this bulk-purchased chardonnay that surprises and lingers with hints of cardboard and candle wax.

Sara watches tensely from across the gallery, pretending to chat with Magenta Girl and and a tall, thin, pretty light brown boy in diamond earrings that dangle and shimmer like micro-chandeliers gently repelling off his long slender neck. But her eyes dart back to Sam and Loco every five to seven seconds, compulsively monitoring the situation. Crow’s feet clawing.

Her put together punk thing is splitting at the seams in the vibrant agit-wear that was custom stitched for her by Needle Williams who also did a year in Squatemala, third spring through fourth summer, before landing that entry level gig at Kenneth Cole, eventually setting up the launch of her own boutique, tearing pages out of big league playbooks, putting her clothes on people like Sam and Sara, sending them out to parties and performances, gallery openings and retrospectives, telling people who think they know better what to consider authentically cool.

Sara’s body of work makes the perfect commercial for everything they’re selling. She’s establishment now with all sorts of shit to lose. Diamond and Magenta are still the real thing, spontaneous and easily mystified. Sara can do no wrong in front of them. They’re doing their best tricks for her, aiming to please.

“I wonder who were your early influences?” Asks Magenta, having worked up the courage to go for it. “Larry Clark, at all? Or Annie Leibovitz?”

“Back then I wasn’t conscious of any influences.” Sara pops an easy base hit, having seen the familiar wind up coming at her many times before. But she answers sweetly and respectfully like it’s a perfectly good question.

Magenta sinks anyway, having thrown her best stuff.

“You’re a photographer?” Asks Sara.


“Don’t try. Just take pictures. When I was your age I didn’t think I knew what I was doing. I sort of loved walking around with a camera but not because I thought I was making art. I was trying to be a part of something. Then I would get into the lab and fall in love watching images show up in the bath. Looking at some of these images now, I see them for what they are. Some of them are actually pretty good but to me they just happened.”

“So you weren’t really trying to be like any, or like, emulate anyone else’s style.” Magenta says.

“I would have been too intimidated to try. In a way my insecurity forced me to just go for it, click the shutter and find out.”

“That is gorgeous.” Diamond says with a bit of Liverpool bleeding through. “I adore that account of a young artist’s process.”

“You’re a photographer as well?”

“I take photos occasionally but I’m studying to be a graphic designer.”

Sara’s eyes dart away and back again. The intern is back at Kiwi ’96, about to engage Sam and Loco.

“Who is that guy?” She says, almost accidentally, giving away impatience.

“Matt?” Diamond says. “He’s in the journalism department.”

“He writes for the paper?”

Magenta nods. “Arts and Culture.”

“Excuse me for a moment.” Sara says brusquely and she’s on her way over to the scene unfolding in front of Kiwi ’96.

But it’s already underway. Diamond opts to pursue. Magenta rolls with him. They’re just a couple of feet behind Sara, snaking through the crowd that’s just beginning to thin as the early shift calls it a night. The DJ throws on a Ministry song from before their time but it feels good moving to it—dramatic and authentic to the period.

They pass a now classic 35mm color print of Sam scaling the telephone pole behind the house with a big fat black extension cord wrapped around his waist, through the belt loops on a pair of purple and beige striped pants closely matching the pair on the bed in Kiwi ’96. Magenta lingers in front of the color print for a moment, glancing at the title: Sam Power.

She catches up with Diamond and Sara on the periphery of Matt’s interview with Sam in progress.

What do you remember about her?

Sam looks at the photo with tender, moistening eyes. “Everything.” He says. “Just about.”

Can you tell me about her?

Another pause hangs for a second, followed by an answer. “What do you want to know?”

“Sam.” Loco says, touching Sam’s upper arm. “You don’t have to talk to this guy.”

Andy has closed in on the circle, frowning openly at Loco’s hand on Sam.

“No, man, I want to.”

Did you give her the nickname Kiwi?

Sam nods. “Her name was Kimberly. One time I heard a girl she worked with call her Kimmy. She used to drink this kiwi flavored seltzer all the time with a koala bear on the bottle. Guys wanted her but they were intimidated by her, you know, they thought she was too pretty, unapproachable, kind of. But she was surprisingly sweet, like a coconut or a kiwi that looks a little daunting on the outside. Everybody had nicknames. Kiwi suited her.

Did she like the name?

“I think so. I don’t know. She liked me. Maybe she put up with it to be nice. I’m not sure.”

Were you two involved?

“You mean were we fucking?”

Yes, I guess that’s what I mean.

“I tried to get her in bed one night. She wasn’t into it. I was worried maybe she would always be uncomfortable around me after that—I mean my style back then was basically just whip it out and go from there—but she was cool, man. Next day, we just went back to being pals but not like it never happened. It was like our funny little secret. I don’t think she ever told anybody.”

Sam looks at Sara, checking to see if she knew. Her tense jaw and staring eyes say she didn’t.

You ever tell anyone?

“Not until just right now.”

You think maybe she liked girls?

“That is one thing I do not know.” Sam takes his eyes off the photo and looks into the white wine in his cup. A few sips remain. He takes one. “I never knew about her hooking up with anyone.”

That must have been unusual.

“She was unusual.”

How so?

“She wasn’t like a lot of the people who lived in the squat.”

Why was she there?

Sam sighs. “She needed a place to stay. And she didn’t have any money. She was one of the few people in the house who worked everyday.”

Then why didn’t she have any money?

“She grew up in a trailer park outside Waco, not far from the Branch Davidian compound, actually. She didn’t have anything. There was no stipend or allowance and she didn’t steal. She was trying to save up for her own place. She put up with mad shit for somewhere to sleep. See the way she looks here?” Sam points at Kiwi in the photo. “She’s not going for demurely sexy, okay, she was just fucking tired from working a double and not getting any sleep because there was a house full of people raging all night. She’s fucking beat and she’s just trying to be nice like she did because there’s no way she wanted her damn picture taken.”

Matt’s looking at Sara, winding up a knuckle ball. There’s no time to prepare. Including the photo was a total mistake.

Did she want her picture taken? Do you remember?

Sara drops her head for a beat, keeping her arms crossed, miming humility. “To be honest I don’t even remember taking this picture.”

You were that intoxicated?

Sara shrugs, acting uneasily open and vulnerable. Hopefully that makes it into the article, casting her as unpretentious and humble.

“It’s totally possible. The light says early morning. What Sam says is probably all true. I might have been really wasted from the night before and goofing around with the camera. Kiwi would have been really tired just like Sam said. I can’t say for sure. I only remember seeing this frame when I went to print the roll a few days later.

Is it possible someone else took the photo?

Sara sighs again but it sounds forced. “It is possible. I really don’t know. If someone else took it, whoever it was knew how to handle a camera to get her exposed like this in that low light, with the sun coming in from the windows in back. I always assumed I took it because it’s kind of technical but I don’t know.”

And you don’t remember Sara taking the photo, Sam?

Sam is shaking his head. “I remember just about everything that night except for this but that makes sense, given the circumstances.”

What circumstances?

“Me and Loco were down in Puma’s room, doing lines and having an orgy. Cocaine makes my memory kind of photographic, like if you’re taking photos with a weird lens. So Kiwi saw us for a second. She was tired and went to lay down in our room because we were in Puma’s room.”

He points at the background of the photo.

“Those are my pants. That’s Loco’s Lamborghini poster from his old room in his parents’ house. We thought it was fucking hilarious. Anyway, Kiwi went up to our room to get some Z’s and we were probably all passing out on Puma’s bed around this time.”

Magenta’s really getting a close look at Kiwi ’96 for the first time. Her eyes lock on something and she stops breathing for a moment. Her hand is shaking as she points. “I remember that place. Pizza Suiza. My parents used to take us there.”

“Yeah,” Loco jumps in, almost interrupting her. “They had that crazy Mexican style pizza. Really good. Kiwi used to bring home free pizza for everyone. That was like paying rent.”

Except no one else was paying rent, right?


“My best friend’s older sister worked there.” Magenta says with her voice shaking just a little, almost undetectably with the ambient noise. “She was there that night.”

Loco can’t help dropping his eyes to the ground. Sam and Sara lock eyes with each other for different reasons.

What night?

Loco clears his throat, waiting for someone else to answer but no one does.

What night are we talking about?

“You didn’t grow up here, did you?”


“There were these, like, um, unspeakably violent murders at Pizza Suiza. It’s actually a famously unsolved case. I’m kind of surprised you haven’t heard of it.”

I’m nineteen.

“Anyway, that’s the night we’re talking about.”

Was Kiwi working there when that happened?

“No.” Sam says curtly. “That was later.”

You can’t help wondering how she felt about it. Too bad she couldn’t be here to tell us.

“Yeah. It is too bad.” Sam says. “Because she was fucking murdered too!”

Sam’s voice cuts through pockets of other conversations like a blast wave rolling through dense forest, toppling evergreens in concentric circles. The brief cascade ends in relative silence with just a skeletal Jeff Mills track thumping now in freshly revealed negative space.

Standing just a few feet inside the front door in the suit she wore to work at the law firm where she does estate planning is Rebecca Sloane, f/k/a Becca Slot. She’s aged particularly well but few people in this gallery would recognize her from the Dylsnik shoots. Apparently, she arrived just in time to catch Sam’s outburst. She’s too far from the epicenter to see Kiwi ’96 on the wall but she doesn’t need to see it to know what Sam is shouting about. The maternal concern on her face matches her smart blue suit.

Loco sees Becca and hesitates to say whatever he was about to say. Matt speaks first.

Wait. Kiwi was murdered?

“We don’t know that.” Loco says fast like a game show where speed counts. “No one knows what happened to Kiwi.”

“If anything happened.” Sara says. “People came and went from Squatemala all the time. I don’t know what happened to most of them but I’m betting they might all still be alive.”

Sam’s face has gone primal. His breathing is loud and labored.

“I mean, Tommy’s not here either but he’s alive and well.” Sara points out.

Sam’s eyes are bulging. “Tommy’s not here because he lives in Malibu on the side of a fucking cliff where he bought a house with his inheritance!”

“Sam, baby. Calm down.” Loco catches his own mistake right away.

Andy catches Loco’s use of the word baby. His lips mash into each other. He looks at the door, not quite ready to bounce.

Sara winces with anticipation.

“Don’t tell me to fucking calm down!”

Back at Squatemala, heads used to say calm down sometimes when Sam got on a tear over art or politics. It never worked. In fact, over time, it became a trigger word like “rosebud” or something if you wanted to set him off and go even bigger. Similarly, “cheer up” was a surefire way to send him downward spiraling into a pitch-black funk. Sara figured out pretty quickly that the best way to cheer Sam up was to agree with him, that “life is a pointlessly impulsive exercise in bestiality,” a line which later made it into an unrecorded concert favorite among fans, “You Beast,” finally released a year ago as one of the live tracks on the Dylsnik career anthology “package,” whimsically entitled Package. Not available on CD or digital download, the comprehensive set comes in an actual chrome dildo with three flash drives in the battery hatch containing every single song, demo, alternate version, remix and live performance ever recorded by the band, dating back to their very first sketches laid down on cassette tape at Squatemala when Loco was still playing bass.

What makes you think Kiwi is dead, Sam?

“Okay, yeah. You want to know what makes me think that, motherfucker? You want a story for your little school paper?”

Sam grabs the tablet out of Matt’s hands, starts thumbing through apps for the internet browser and finds it.

“This is gonna rip the fuckin’ lid off your little amateur tabloid. You might get a fucking Pulitzer for this or some shit—probably be thanking me about this time next year.”

He finds what he’s been thumbing for on the tablet, double takes to confirm and hands it back to Matt.

“It’s loading.”

Sam appears calmer now. Whatever he’s loading on the tablet is the exclamation point with which he can conclude the outburst that might have become a tirade had this technology not been within immediate reach.

Mild skepticism slides off Matt’s face. His eyes widen as he gets it. Sara stretches her neck for a peek at the screen over Matt’s shoulder. She can’t quite see it.

“What is it?” Loco asks.

“Our paper.” Matt says. “This is the photo archive.”

Sam is nodding with some degree of satisfaction and a dash of that trademark snide added. “After she dropped out of art school, Sara used to sneak into the paper to print her shit. Didn’t you?”

Sara won’t acknowledge him. She grabs at the tablet. “Let me see.”

Matt turns a bit to put his body between the tablet and Sara. “Hold up.”

He’s really looking at whatever it is in the archive.

“Make it full screen, man.” Sam says, tilting his head for an angle on the frame.

“Let me see!” Sara snaps.

“Show her.” Sam says.

Matt sticks the tablet in Sara’s face. Several seconds pass, during which the totally familiar is totally unfamiliar. The photo on the screen is the same photo hanging on the wall. But there are subtle differences.

The print on the wall has been cropped. In the unedited photo, straight out of the chemical bath, the left side of the bedroom is visible. A closet door is open six to ten inches. On it hangs a cheap full-length mirror someone bought at Target or Penny’s. In the mirror, a tall thin man is watching from the bedroom doorway as the picture is taken. He’s older, judging by his department store button shirt that was always out of style tucked into his dad jeans and high top pump sneakers no one else ever thought were cool. His haircut is overgrown barbershop, his gaunt face unshaven and his eyes full of prurient longing.

Loco gets a look at it when Sara’s had enough. He shows it to Andy who at least feels less excluded though the significance of the full frame should be lost on him, having no history with these people. But the one thing obvious to anyone seeing it even for the first time is that the man in the mirror is a stranger. He’s much older than Kiwi but, more than that, he is inappropriate. He doesn’t belong there. The photo on the wall makes sense because he’s not in it.

“Who is that?” Loco asks in a way that means he recognizes the man in the photo while struggling to place him.

“You know who it is.” Sam says to both Loco and Sara with an accusation stitched in.

“I know the face. I don’t remember the name.” Loco says.

“I don’t remember this guy at all.” Sara says in a way that sounds authentic but she’s good at that so who knows.

Sam’s face heats up again. A noisy exhale is like steam escaping despite his efforts. He’s holding something back that can’t be held back.

“That motherfucker hung around for three days, knowing nobody, then he’s gone as fucking suddenly as he appeared and Kiwi’s gone with him. He fucking took her, and he fucking killed her and God knows what else.” Sam glares at Loco and Sara, trembling as tears collect at the edges of his bloodshot eyes. “You know this. Don’t fucking stand there pretending you don’t.”

“Buddy,” Loco says, reaching for Sam’s shoulder, “come on.”

“I’m not your buddy, Biff. I was the love of your life. Or you’re gonna stand there and deny that too?”

“Sam.” Sara does the imperative thing instead. “Enough.”

“And three fucking days later the pizza place.” Sam says, beginning to cry for real.

“Oh come on.” Sara rolls her eyes.

“I can’t believe you still do that.” Sam says to her.

“Do what?” She squints disdain at him.

“That.” He bumps his chin at her face. “Rolling your eyes, squinting, sighing—that same old lazy shit. Your dismissal doesn’t prove anything, Sara. It never did. Acting superior doesn’t make you right, Sara. It just shows everyone what a smug asshole you still are only now you don’t have the looks and riot grrrl posturing to pull it off.”

“Great, Sam. Attack me because I don’t agree with you that some weird guy in a house full of weird guys who came and went all the time killed a girl. That photograph ain’t evidence of shit.”

“I know you know.” Sam throws his empty plastic wine cup at the wall in an anti-climactic parting gesture and storms out. “I know you fucking know, asshole!”

He shouts it with his back to the gallery and he’s out the door with Rebecca’s hands gently wrapping his arm. His pain on her face. Sam doesn’t need an escort but she needs him to know he’s not alone.

A pause comes and goes. Matt’s still looking at the tablet because he’s fascinated or maybe because he’s too uncomfortable to look at anyone else.

“Well,” Loco says after a big moment, “Sam still makes quite an exit.”




Days go by before Matt has a chance to sit down with Sam. Calls to and from an attorney friend who manages Sam part time as a favor make it happen. Matt politely conveys the realness of his interest in the story and the time-sensitivity of making the semester’s last issue. The attorney friend waits for Sam to stop pretending like he doesn’t want to talk as an excuse to stay fucked up for two straight days.

It’s waiting around with the deadline on top of him that brings Matt to a “what the hell” moment when he tracks Loco down at the not-for-profit he runs with Andy. By the time he hears back from Sam’s camp, he and Loco have already spoken. Both talks wind up in the piece but Loco’s makes up the bulk.

What made you change your mind?

“The other night at the gallery. Sam was right. He usually is right. His style gets him in trouble. He’s like a natural leader in one sense but then a natural outlaw in another. People would follow him if they weren’t afraid of him.”

The question was what made you change your mind.

“Like I said. Sam was right. I don’t want him to have to deal with this alone. We all—well maybe not all of us—but a lot of us, me and Sam for sure, thought this guy might have done something to Kiwi.”

Why do you think no one said anything back then?

“A lot of reasons. We were fucked up. A lot. Probably no one really realized Kiwi wasn’t around until she wasn’t around for a while and even then it wasn’t for weeks or months that people would have started thinking, maybe something happened to her. Until then it was like, she probably found a better place to live, you know? You wouldn’t just jump to that conclusion, but then Kiwi wouldn’t have bounced without ever saying anything or stopping by. She really loved Sam and me. She loved Trickster and Puma too. Those guys loved her. I mean, things were messed up in that house but there was a lot of good feeling then. Sam and I put it together sometime later that year. That guy made people uncomfortable. There were a lot of weird people there like Sara said but I don’t remember anyone creeping me out like that.

Why didn’t you guys say anything when you put it together?

“To who? The cops? Forget it, man. We had heavy traffic in Squatemala. There were multiple dealers clocking out of there and lots of customers made it their go-to. We were stealing electricity from the pole out back. The place was full of stolen merchandise that would have been all over burglary reports.”

So no one said anything because you were all afraid of getting busted?

“I wasn’t so afraid of getting busted myself, okay? I was afraid of my friends getting busted. I was afraid of being responsible for ruining other peoples’ lives. Sam was too. And Sara.”

What about the pizza place?

“I honestly never thought about it. Sam made the connection. I never agreed with him but now I can see that I was afraid to because it made so much sense. The guy knew Kiwi from the pizza place. Either she made a delivery to his place or he saw her in there and got fixated, followed her back to the house and then, I don’t know, just hung out and waited for his opportunity.”

Do you remember his name?

“I remember him saying his name was ‘Ace’ because people would sort of giggle when he told them that. I thought it sounded like a bullshit made-up name.”

You remember anything else about him, what he did for a living maybe?

Loco shakes his head. “Every time I heard anyone ask him that he said, ‘remember the crash of ’87?’ Heads would nod even if they didn’t know what he meant. Then he would look at them smugly and say, ‘I sold short.'”

What did that mean?

“The implication was that he made a shitload of money on a few key trades and never had to work again. Was that not clear?”

No. That wasn’t clear because I’m 19 and not yet market savvy. But it’s clear now. Thanks.

“Anything else?”

Can you think of anything else?

“Talk to Sam. He might remember more.”

But he doesn’t, not really. Sam is pretty wasted during his conversation with Matt and the interview is a wash as a Q&A. He toughs it out, mostly for Sam’s benefit, because Sam does want to talk, just not coherently on a single topic. After almost three hours, Matt has three usable quotes from Sam.

“Our head of security on the Dylsnik reunion tour was ex-cop. Homicide. Full detective. Knew the case.” Sam sniffles. “I asked him how the pizza joint murders could go unsolved for so long.”

What did he say?

“He said it was because the doer was either locked up for some other violent crime or dead. He said violent motherfuckers meet violent ends.”

And you believe that?

Sam takes a moment and several drags off a hand-rolled cigarette, swallowing tears.

“I need to believe it.”