In 2002, Alan Glynn wrote the celebrated suspense novel The Dark Fields. On March 18, The Dark Fields will come to theaters as the film Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Abbie Cornish. To celebrate, Mulholland Books will run a three-part series: three chapters from the book (generously provided by Picador from their Limitless movie tie-in edition), accompanied by stills from the film. As well as some forthcoming extras. Get ready for Limitless, the author’s cut.
IT’S GETTING LATE.
I don’t have too sharp a sense of time any more, but I know it must be after eleven, and maybe even getting on for midnight. I’m reluctant to look at my watch, though—because that will only remind me of how little time I have left.
In any case, it’s getting late.
And it’s quiet. Apart from the ice-machine humming outside my door and the occasional car passing by on the highway, I can’t actually hear a thing—no traffic, or sirens, or music, or local people talking, or animals making weird nightcalls to each other, if that’s what animals do. Nothing. No sounds at all. It’s eerie, and I don’t really like it. So maybe I shouldn’t have come all the way up here. Maybe I should have just stayed in the city, and let the time-lapse flicker of the lights short-circuit my now preternatural attention span, let the relentless bustle and noise wear me down and burn up all this energy I’ve got pumping through my system. But if I hadn’t come up here to Vermont, to this motel—to the Northview Motor Lodge—where would I have stayed? I couldn’t very well have inflicted my little mushroom-cloud of woes on any of my friends, so I guess I had no option but to do what I did—get in a car and leave the city, drive hundreds of miles up here to this quiet, empty part of the country . . .
And to this quiet, empty motel room, with its three different but equally busy décor patterns—carpet, wallpaper, blankets—vying, screaming, for my attention—to say nothing of the shopping-mall artwork everywhere, the snowy mountain scene over the bed, the Sunflowers reproduction by the door.
I am sitting in a wicker armchair in a Vermont motel room, everything unfamiliar to me. I’ve got a laptop computer balanced on my knees and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the floor beside me. I’m facing the TV set, which is bolted to the wall in the corner, and is switched on, tuned to CNN, but with the sound turned right down. There is a panel of commentators on the screen—national security advisers, Washington correspondents, foreign policy experts—and although I can’t hear them, I know what they’re talking about . . . they’re talking about the situation, the crisis, they’re talking about Mexico.
Finally—giving in—I look at my watch.
I can’t believe that it’s been nearly twelve hours already. In a while, of course, it will be fifteen hours, and then twenty hours, and then a whole day. What happened in Manhattan this morning is receding, slipping back along all those countless, small-town Main Streets, and along all those miles of highway, hurtling backwards through time, and at what feels like an unnaturally rapid pace. But it is also beginning to break up under the immense pressure, beginning to crack and fragment into separate shards of memory—while simultaneously remaining, of course, in some kind of a suspended, inescapable present tense, set hard, unbreakable . . . more real and alive than anything I can see around me here in this motel room.
I look at my watch again.
The thought of what happened sets my heart pounding, and audibly, as if it’s panicking in there and will shortly be forcing its way, thrashing and flailing, out of my chest. But at least my head hasn’t started pounding. That will come, I know, sooner or later—the intense pin-prick behind the eyeballs spreading out into an excruciating, skull-wide agony. But at least it hasn’t started yet.
Clearly, though, time is running out.
So how do I begin this?
I suppose I brought the laptop with me intending to get everything down on a disk, intending to write a straightforward account of what happened, and yet here I am hesitating, circling over the material, dithering around as if I had a couple of months at my disposal and some sort of a reputation to protect. The thing is, I don’t have a couple of months—I probably only have a couple of hours—and I don’t have any reputation to protect, but I still feel as if I should be going for a bold opening here, something grand and declamatory, the kind of thing a bearded omniscient narrator from the nineteenth century might put in to kick-start his latest 900-pager.
The broad stroke.
Which, I feel, would go with the general territory.
But the plain truth is, there was nothing broad-stroke-ish about it, nothing grand and declamatory in how all of this got started, nothing particularly auspicious in my running into Vernon Gant on the street one afternoon a few months ago.
And that, I suppose, really is where I should start.
Of all the various relationships and shifting configurations that can exist within a modern family, of all the potential relatives that can be foisted upon you—people you’ll be tied to for ever, in documents, in photographs, in obscure corners of memory—surely for sheer tenuousness, absurdity even, one figure must stand towering above all others, one figure, alone and multi-hyphenated: the ex-brother-in-law.
Hardly fabled in story and song, it’s not a relationship that requires renewal. What’s more, if you and your former spouse don’t have any children then there’s really no reason for you ever, ever to see this person again in your entire life. Unless, of course, you just happen to bump into him in the street and are unable, or not quick enough, to avoid making eye contact.
It was a Tuesday afternoon in February, about four o’clock, sunny and not too cold. I was walking along Twelfth Street at a steady clip, smoking a cigarette, heading towards Fifth Avenue. I was in a bad mood and entertaining dark thoughts about a wide range of subjects, my book for Kerr & Dexter—Turning On: From Haight-Ashbury to Silicon Valley—chief among them, though there was nothing unusual about that, since the subject thrummed relentlessly beneath everything I did, every meal I ate, every shower I took, every ball-game I watched on TV, every late-night trip to the corner store for milk, or toilet-paper, or chocolate, or cigarettes. My fear on that particular afternoon, as I remember, was that the book just wouldn’t hang together. You’ve got to strike a delicate balance in this kind of thing between telling the story and . . . telling the story —if you know what I mean—and I was worried that maybe there was no story, that the basic premise of the book was a crock of shit. In addition to this, I was thinking about my apartment on Avenue A and Tenth Street and how I needed to move to a bigger place, but how that idea also filled me with dread—taking my books down off their shelves, sorting through my desk, then packing everything into identical boxes, forget it. I was thinking about my ex-girlfriend, too—Maria, and her ten-year-old daughter, Romy—and how I’d clearly been the wrong guy to be around that situation. I never used to say enough to the mom and couldn’t rein in my language when I was talking to the kid. Other dark thoughts I was having: I smoked too much and had a sore chest. I had a host of companion symptoms as well, niggly physical things that showed up occasionally, weird aches, possible lumps, rashes, symptoms of a condition maybe, or a network of conditions. What if they all held hands one day, and lit up, and I keeled over dead?
I thought about how I hated the way I looked, and how I needed a haircut.
I flicked ash from my cigarette on to the sidewalk. I glanced up. The corner of Twelfth and Fifth was about twenty yards ahead of me. Suddenly a guy came careering around the corner from Fifth, walking as fast as I was. An aerial view would have shown us—two molecules—on a direct collision course. I recognized him at ten yards and he recognized me. At five yards we both started putting the brakes on and making with the gestures, the bug-eyes, the double-takes.
“How are you?”
“God, how long has it been?”
We shook hands and slapped shoulders.
Vernon then stood back a little and started sizing me up.
“Jesus, Eddie, pack it on, why don’t you?’”
This was a reference to the considerable weight I’d gained since we’d last met, which was maybe nine or ten years before.
He was tall and skinny, just like he’d always been. I looked at his balding head, and paused. Then I nodded upwards. “Well, at least I still have some choice in the matter.”
He danced Jake La Motta-style for a moment and then threw me a mock left hook.
“Still Mr Smart-ass, huh? So what are you up to, Eddie?”
He was wearing an expensive, loose-fitting linen suit and dark leather shoes. He had gold-rimmed shades on, and a tan. He looked and smelled like money.
What was I up to?
All of a sudden I didn’t want to be having this conversation.
“I’m working for Kerr & Dexter, you know, the publishers.”
He sniffed and nodded yeah, waiting for more.
“I’ve been a copywriter with them for about three or four years, text-books and manuals, that kind of thing, but now they’re doing a series of illustrated books on the twentieth century—you know, hoping to cash in on an early boom in the nostalgia trade—and I’ve been commissioned to do one about the design links between the Sixties and the Nineties . . .”
“. . . Haight-Ashbury and Silicon Valley . . .”
I hammered it home, “Lysergic acid and personal computers.”
“It’s not really. They don’t pay very well and because the books are going to be so short—only about a hundred pages, a hundred twenty—you don’t have much latitude, which actually makes it more of a challenge, because . . .”
He furrowed his brow. “Yeah?’
“. . . because . . .”—explaining myself like this was sending unexpected stabs of embarrassment, and contempt, right through me and out the other side. I shuffled from one foot to the other. “. . . because, well, you’re basically writing captions to the illustrations and so if you want to get any kind of angle across you have to be really on top of the material, you know.’”
“That’s great, man.’ He smiled. “It’s what you always wanted to be doing, am I right?’”
I considered this. It was, in a way—I suppose. But not in any way he’d ever understood. Jesus, I thought, Vernon Gant.
“That must be a trip,” he said.
Vernon had been a cocaine dealer when I knew him in the late 1980s, but back then he’d had quite a different image, lots of hair, leather jackets, big into Tao and furniture. It was all coming back to me now.
“Actually I’m having a hard time with it,” I said, though I don’t know why I was bothering to pursue the matter.
“Yeah?” he said, pulling back a little. He adjusted his shades as though he were surprised to hear what I’d said, but was nevertheless ready to start doling out advice once he’d nailed down whatever the problem might be.
“There are so many strands, you know, and contradictions—it’s just hard to work out where to start.” I settled my gaze on a car parked across the street, a metallic-blue Mercedes. “I mean you’ve got the anti-technology, back-to-nature Sixties, the Whole Earth Catalogue –all that shit . . . windchimes, brown rice and patchouli. But then you’ve got the pyrotechnics of rock music, sound-and-light, the word electric and the very fact that LSD itself came out of a laboratory . . .” I kept my gaze on the car. “. . . and also that—get this—the prototype version of the Internet, the Arpanet, was developed in nineteen sixty-nine, at UCLA. Nineteen sixty-nine.”
I stopped again. The only reason I’d come out with this, I suppose, was because it was on my mind and had been all day. I was just thinking out loud, thinking—what angle did I take?
Vernon clicked his tongue and looked at his watch. “What are you doing now, Eddie?”
“Walking down the street. Nothing. Having a smoke. I don’t know. I can’t get any work done.” I took a drag from my cigarette. “Why?”
“I think I can help you out.”
He looked at his watch again and seemed to be calculating something for a moment.
I stared at him in disbelief and was on the verge of getting annoyed.
“C’mon, I’ll explain what I mean,” he said. “Let’s go for a drink.” He clapped his hands. “Vamos.”
I really didn’t think my heading off with Vernon Gant was such a good idea. Apart from anything else, how could he possibly help me with the problem I’d just outlined to him? The notion was absurd.
But I hesitated.
I’d liked the sound of the second part of his proposition, the going for a drink part. There was also, I have to admit, a slight Pavlovian element to my hesitation—the idea of bumping into Vernon and heading off spontaneously to another location stirred something in my body chemistry. Hearing him say vamos, as well, was like an access-code or a search-word into a whole phase of my life that had been closed off now for nearly ten years.
I rubbed my nose and said, “OK.’
“Good.” He paused, and then said—like he was trying it out for size—“Eddie Spinola.”
To Be Continued…
Alan Glynn is the author of two novels, Limitless, which was adapted into the major motion picture of the same name, and Winterland, which was published earlier this year by Minotaur and Faber & Faber. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.