Book Extract: Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

Frey's first novel tells the story of LA and the lost souls who live there
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The Independent Culture

She is 26 years old. She is originally from Indianapolis. She has lived in LA for nine months, she moved here to become a publicist, her family did not approve. Three weeks ago she was walking through a parking garage, it was late at night, she had been on a first date, she had had two glasses of wine with dinner. Her date had wanted to walk to her car, but she liked him, really liked him, he was a year older, an entertainment attorney, someone who wanted, like her, a career and later a family, and she knew if he walked to her car he would try to kiss her. She wanted to take it slowly, try to engage in as old-fashioned a dating process as possible. She said she'd be fine. He said he would call her. She smiled and said she looked forward to it. She walked away.

She had been in the garage many times, her office was down the street, it was in Santa Monica, which is a safe, wealthy, stable community. The garage was fairly empty. She took an elevator to the fourth floor. She got out and started walking towards her car, which was on the opposite side of the garage.

She immediately felt uneasy. She started walking more quickly something was wrong wrong she was suddenly terrified absolutely fucking terrified something was wrong. She was 20 feet from her car, 15, 10 she reached for her keys 10 feet away as she reached for her keys she was terrified. He stepped out from between two cars, came at her from behind, she was five feet away, her keys in her hand.

Ricky hasn't had a job in four years. He used to work at a printing shop, but it closed due to advances in printing technology that allowed small businesses to do their own printing. He went on unemployment, it ran out, he couldn't find another job, printing shops all over the city were going under. He liked sitting at home watching television and drinking beer all day, so he stopped trying to find another job. He needed money, was trying to figure out how to get it, when a friend, a convicted felon, called him and asked him to buy a gun (felons can't buy firearms in California). He went to Larry's Firearms with the friend, bought a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and a California-legal assault rifle using the friend's money. When he got home with the weapons, he filed off the serial numbers. He charged his friend, who needed good weapons for his work, 500 bucks.

That felon told another felon who told another felon. Ricky started making money. Under California law, he could only buy one handgun a month, but there was no limit on the number of assault rifles, and if needed, he could always go to Arizona or Nevada to circumvent the California law. He bought a set of files and some hydrochloric acid to make the serial numbers disappear properly. At this point, not one of the 300 firearms he has bought for convicted felons has been traced back to him.

He's in Larry's today with a man named John. John just got out of prison for manslaughter and wants an assault rifle. Ricky doesn't ask why, but John makes several comments about an ex-wife, a former business partner, and some missing money. Larry is showing them AKs and AR-15s, weapons that can be easily converted from semi-automatic to full automatic. Ricky, as per John's instructions, buys one of each. He also buys the parts that allow the conversion from semi-auto to full, and a book with instructions on exactly how to do it. Ricky will have to wait a day to pick up the weapons, and will need two more days to get rid of the serial numbers. At that point, he will turn them over to John, and if asked, will deny ever meeting him, speaking to him or having anything to do with him. What John does with the weapons is none of his business. None.

He held a gun to her head, made her drive into the hills above Malibu, made her park at the end of a remote fire lane. He raped her in the backseat. He pistol-whipped her. He threw her into the dirt and drove away.

It took her four hours to find help. She went to the hospital, filed a police report. The incident was reported in the papers and on the local news. There were no fingerprints. There was no DNA.

She didn't tell her parents or her co-workers. She didn't want to hear I told you so, she didn't want any pity. She took her vacation and she stayed at home in bed and cried for two weeks. She called the detective working on her case twice a day, there were no leads.

When she went back to work, she was a different person, she no longer smiled, laughed, she ate lunch alone, she left at exactly five and never went out with her co-workers. The man she had dated that night called her and she never called back, he called three more times she never called back. She saw a therapist it didn't help. She saw a rape counsellor it didn't help. She saw a pastor it didn't help. She joined a support group it didn't help. She started drinking it didn't help.

She recognised him when he took her order at a fast-food restaurant. He had worn a mask and she didn't see his face, but she knew his voice and she knew his eyes. He smiled at her as she ordered. He asked if they knew each other from somewhere. He asked her name. There was no mistaking the fact that he knew who she was, and he knew that she recognised him. He touched her hand as he passed her order over the counter. As she walked away, he smiled at her and said I hope to see you again.

She never went back to her job. She stopped leaving the house she was scared. She didn't pick up the phone or use her computer. She stared at the ceiling, at her pillow, at her wall. She never looked in the mirror. This morning she woke up and she showered and, for the first time in months, she put on her makeup and did her hair. She looked beautiful, like the girl who had arrived from Indianapolis with dreams, with a future, with a life ahead of her. She went out for breakfast with two of her friends from work. She called the man who had taken her on the date and apologised for not calling him earlier. She sent e-mails to friends and called her parents. She told them all that she loved them.

When she was done she drove to Larry's Firearms. She bought a brand-new Colt .45. She submitted the information necessary to acquire the weapon. She left with a smile. Tomorrow she's going to pick up the weapon, bring it home, load it. At that point, she will make the decision, find him and shoot him in the face and kill him, or put the gun in her own mouth and blow the back of her head away. Either way, she will think of him just before she pulls the trigger, think of him touching her and smiling at her, think of him standing behind the counter knowing that she recognised him. Either way, her life will be over. She is going to think of him touching her and smiling at her. She is going to pull the trigger.

Larry closes the shop, goes home eats dinner and drinks a six-pack of nice, cold American beer. He sleeps without a care.

© James Frey 2008

'Bright Shiny Morning' by James Frey is published on Thursday by John Murray, at £12.99

About the author

James Frey was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1969, and is also the author of the bestselling "memoirs" A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard. He lives in New York.