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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

This book was written on unceded Tongva territory.

Copyright © 2021 by Jonathan Ames

Cover design by Julianna Lee; cover art by Millennium Images (man smoking) and Getty Images (skyline)

Cover copyright © 2021 by Hachette Book Group

Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact permissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Mulholland Books / Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

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First Edition: April 2021

Mulholland Books is an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Mulholland Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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ISBN 978-0-316-70364-2

E3-20210315-DA-ORI

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Part I

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

Part II

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

19.

20.

21.

Part III

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Epilogue

Discover More

A Preview of “The Wheel of Doll”

About the Author

Also by Jonathan Ames

For Ray Pitt

(1930–2020)

Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.

Tap here to learn more.

Part I

1.

Shelton had always been a hard man to kill.

But this time he looked nervous.

He came to my shabby little office on a Tuesday in early March, 2019. It had been a few weeks since I’d seen him last and he didn’t look good. But that wasn’t unusual. He never looked good. He was covered in liver spots like a paisley tie and was built like a bowling pin—round in the middle and meager up top. His head was small.

He was in the customer’s chair and I was behind my desk.

He was seventy-three, bald, and short, and getting shorter all the time.

I was fifty, Irish, and nuts, and getting nuttier all the time.

Outside there was a downpour. LA was crying and had been for weeks. The window behind my desk was being pelted; the noise was like a symphony gone mad.

It was rainy season. An old-fashioned one. An anomaly. Hadn’t rained this long in years, and LA had turned Irish green: the brown, scorched hills were soft with new grass, like chest hair on a burn victim. You could almost think that everything was going to be all right with the world. Almost.

“I’m in a bad way, Hank,” Shelton said. “That’s why I came to see you in person. Even in this weather.”

His tan raincoat was wet and splotched and looked like the greasy wax paper they use for deli meat. He fished his Pall Malls out of his right pocket and set one on fire. He knew I didn’t mind, and it didn’t matter anyway. Even when he wasn’t smoking, he smelled like he was. His open mouth was like an idling car.

“Why you in a bad way, Lou? What’s going on?” I pushed my ashtray, littered with the ends of joints, closer to his side of the desk.

“You know I lost the kidney, right?” he said.

“Yeah. Of course,” I said. “I visited you. Remember?” I took a joint out of my desk drawer, struck a match, and lit up. But I knew I wouldn’t get high. I’ve smoked too much over the years and I’m saturated with THC. So at this point, it’s just a placebo. A placebo that takes the edge off. Makes the nightmare something you don’t have to wake up from. You know it’s all a dream. Even if it’s a bad dream.

“I know. I know,” Lou said. “I’m just saying. You know I lost one, and now, well, the good kidney, which wasn’t that good, is going. And I’m looking at dialysis. And dialysis is a living death.”

He sucked on his cigarette. Lou Shelton had been smoking two packs a day since he was fifteen. He’d had open-heart surgery three times and had more stents than fingers. He’d survived mouth cancer and throat cancer and tongue cancer, and his voice was a toss-up between a rasp, a wheeze, and a death rattle.

I’d seen him once with his shirt off, and he had a fat scar, like an ugly red snake, down the middle of his chest. It was a zipper that kept getting opened, and from being in hospitals so much, he had a more or less permanent case of MRSA, which made him prone to boils on his ass that had to be lanced.

And he sucked on the Pall Mall.

Like I said, he was a hard man to kill.

“They say it’s definite? You got to do the dialysis? What is it, once a week?”

“Once a week? Are you crazy? You go every other day, sometimes every day. For hours on end. And you need help. A woman. A child. I don’t have any of that.”

Shelton’s wife, also a heavy smoker, had died of pneumonia five years before. She had gone fast. Her lungs were shot.

They’d had one kid, a daughter, but she wouldn’t see Shelton. After he lost the first kidney and wouldn’t quit smoking, she cut him out of her life. Said she couldn’t stand by anymore and watch him kill himself. Like mom.

Still, he sent her a nice check every month. He would never stop loving her, but I guess he loved his cigarettes more. He had a grandchild he’d never seen. And his daughter cashed the checks. Never said thank you. Why should she?

“Maybe dialysis isn’t that bad,” I said.

“No! It’s death. I’m never gonna do it.”

Part of me wanted to say, “Just give up

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