You know this guy, this Gerald Winslow. Think about Chicago. Think about Nicky the Rat and Evelyn’s father and Old Stan the Radio Play Man – they’re just like him. Buddy O’Quinn too. The way they all used to hole up. You know that pain. Think about the loneliness of looking in the mirror. What’d Boetticher used to say? Use it, Skip.

You’re a bad man. You were raised on dust and oil. You have this evil in your lungs. When your woman talks to you, what you hear isn’t words, it’s poison in the air, poison dotting your skin. She hates your mother, she hates you, she wants escape, something else, something other than you, anything other than you, a tall man with big hands and big dreams. When your woman talks, all you hear is pennies hitting the floor.

You’ve done this before. You’ll do it again. It’s what they like you for. It’s what you’re good at.

Remember to put rocks in your shoes. It makes you hurt. It gives you that extra wince. Remember to put pepper in your coffee. Always talk like there’s pepper in your coffee.

You don’t know from Oklahoma, but Oklahoma’s anywhere. The same grippings and grabbings, all the sweating, the tired blood. You’ve got tired blood, Gerald. You’ve got angry blood. Wasps in your blood. Wasps in your mouth. Salt in your eyes.

Look in the mirror. You’re him. There’s that extra wince.

You were born defying death. You were born in an America where everything started low and just kept going down. Then there’s what you remember of the life you never knew: tasting the dirt from the foot of her grave, rubbing the fabric of her favorite dress between your fingers. Mother.

Remember that girl out at the ranch on the Witney picture. Remember what she told you about growing up with a man like Gerald. How he’d make her sing with pain. How he seemed larger than he was, never-endingly large, until he swallowed everything around her, his head hitting the ceiling, his shoulders touching the wall, his teeth like doors, his eyes like windows, his breath a storm.

A litany of bad men.

Father Dunleavy, who you saw in the alley with Mrs. Macready, his eyes lit up by meanness, his collar undone.

The ones your mother told you about, who came to the apartment – you were just a baby – and made her beg for a second chance.

So many.

And now you’re another one in this picture, or maybe you’ve always been one and that’s why they like you for them. What is it? Why me? How’d I get tagged this way? I used to be a dream kid.

Your eyes in the mirror. Deep. Strained. You try to think about what’s going on back there, behind those eyes, and you picture webs and fountains of connectivity and bright happenings. They made you mean again. You are mean.

You leave the room, ready, and the heat hits you. Kneel down. This is an altar. This is the place to let it all out.

William Boyle is the author of the novels Gravesend, Everything is Broken,The Lonely Witness, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, and City of Margins, and a story collection, Death Don’t Have No Mercy. His books have been nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France, the New Blood Dagger in the UK, and the Hammett Prize in the U.S. He is from Brooklyn, New York and currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi.