About The Lonely
About the Lonely: A Novel
When the first flash hit him, James K. Camp was walking unsteadily between two burly, uniformed cops. More than one photographer had been tipped off about the route and time of his departure from the back exit at Lenox Hill. The questions came, one on top of the next. No, words wouldn’t kill him, but it was a barrage of insect bites. Or woodpeckers. And he was a helpless tree with clumsy feet. The panic rose like a geyser from his stomach, seizing everything above his waist. One of the cops noticed and grabbed him under the arm.
What’s wrong, Jimmy? Are you retarded? What happened to you?
“Mr. Camp, tell us about the other day. What made you act? What made you do such a heroic thing? The world has to know! It has to know you!”
Stand up straight. They barely touched you. Jesus, will you look at this guy? It’d be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. Nothing’s happening! Get it together!
One of the cops told him that the car was up ahead. Just keep moving. Another series of flashes. More screaming, demanding more from their hero. Jim felt like the concrete was sinking underneath his feet. Quicksand below. A jungle all around, stinging, curling around his arms and neck.
“Are you OK, Mr. Camp? Tell us about that day. Tell us about yourself. The world has to know!”
Your family name won’t help you. Be a man. Jimmy the weirdo. Jimmy the freak. Eh, you’re nothing.
“How can you have nothing to say, Mr. Camp? Why won’t you reach out to Anna Harrison?”
The questions and the flashes kept coming, but finally, Jim found himself in the back of an unmarked SUV. The driver peeled away up a steep ramp and into the light while his VIP clutched himself against the world. The officers on either side of Camp tried to put him at ease; it wasn’t working.
“Detective Gregg,” the driver said. He was speaking into the radio attached to his vest just above the heart. “Your guy is freaking out in here.”
A few quick turns helped lose some of the press. There were three identical decoy vehicles in the convoy, peeling off at random to draw away their unwanted followers. Finally, Gregg came back. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t know, sir. We got ambushed coming out, bunch of paparazzi assholes. He’s just—freaking out.”
“What do you want me to do?” Gregg said. “He seemed fairly normal the other day.”
“Yeah, well, today he’s humming to himself, curled up like Rain Man.”
“It was the drugs,” Jim said, still tucked like a shell shocked soldier. “I’m easily—aggravated. But the drugs did something to my nerves. Deadened them.” Jim squeezed his head, listening to Gregg and the driver exchange ideas. The agitation and pain rolled up on itself, listening to strangers postulate ignorantly. It was well-meaning, sure enough. That only made it worse. Nevertheless, Jim just let them talk. Trying to explain it would only confuse them and make the pressure in his throat and head more severe.
“Just get him home,” Gregg said. “I’ve got another freak to contend with at present.”
“Will do, sir.” The driver put both hands back on the wheel, trying to squirm a path through the ball of yarn that was Manhattan midday traffic. It seemed like every car in the world was honking. The cold crisp sunlight was bouncing wildly off of the city’s infinite surfaces, enhanced and supercharged by the coat of water left by the previous day’s incessant rains. Jim grabbed for the skull cap on top of the cop’s head to his left. Before the officer could object, the fabric was down over his eyes and mouth. The cop sensed there was no malice in the action and let Jim mumble into the wool. The SUV drifted in and out of turn lanes and made quick little movements to find a way clear—from an outside perspective, the vehicle was as nettled as its celebrity occupant, struggling just the same. The honks continued until they finally arrived at the Camp’s building. Whatever tails they had were long gone. No amount of tenacity would’ve allowed a follower to run the same gauntlet as the SUV.
The driver double parked on Madison and sharply motioned his hand for the guys in back to get their cargo inside the building. He rolled down the passenger side window, looking right to make sure James Camp got home safe. A calm-faced black man in a stylish blue suit came out to meet his guys; they exchanged some words and Camp was taken inside. Honks continued from all around. The driver realized he was sweating through his clothes. Puddles were collecting around the toes in his boots. He checked his watch. Twenty minutes from the hospital to the penthouse on Madison. A minor miracle, really, considering the time of day, considering the maniacal episode in the backseat.
The driver took a deep breath and did his best to cancel out the bustling city. He grabbed the switch on his radio. “Yeah, Gregg. You out there?”
“Told you I was busy.”
“Well, thought you’d want to know. Camp’s back home. I’ll leave a couple guys here for now.”
“It wasn’t easy—getting him here.”
“Okay… just, I need to get back to you.”
“What did you mean?”
“Be more specific,” Gregg said. The preoccupation in the detective’s voice was obvious, even through the crackle of the radio.
The driver couldn’t let it go. “You said you had your own freak there?”
After a pause, Gregg answered. “That’s right.”
“What’s going on, detective?”
“I’m staring at the shooter.”
“He’s ten feet from me. Cuffed to a table. Nothing but glass and sanity separating us.”
“You tracked him down, then. Nice work.”
“I didn’t do a damn thing. Guy just walked in and confessed.”
“No shit,” the driver said.
“Yeah,” Gregg answered. “No shit.”