The Euthanist: A Novel

The Euthanist: A Novel

by Alex Dolan
The Euthanist: A Novel

The Euthanist: A Novel

by Alex Dolan

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Overview

“Much more than a brilliant debut thriller. Dolan’s mile-a-minute story also gets at one of our species’ most important issues―can we choose how to die?” (Dylan Schaffer, author of I Right the Wrongs)
 
In this auspicious debut, Alex Dolan announces himself as a virtuoso of psychological suspense and a rightful heir to masters of the genre like Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott.
 
Kali helps to end the lives of people with terminal diseases, her reasons her own. But she just helped the wrong person. Leland Moon is an FBI agent who couldn’t stop the abduction of his own son. He ropes Kali into a plot to avenge his son and help other victims, putting into a motion a mesmerizing cat-and-mouse game with two ruthless predators. Their mission will make Kali question everything she ever thought she know about herself. And the last life she ends may be her own . . .
 
“Grabbed me from the first page and showed no signs of letting go. Dark and sinewy, topical and timeless, laced with rich characterization and gallows humor, it showcases Dolan as a thriller writer to watch and follow.” —Louis Bayard, bestselling author of Courting Mr. Lincoln
 
“Alex Dolan makes an engrossing debut with The Euthanist . . . Dolan hooks readers from the very start, ratcheting up the tension and suspense until the shocking ending. As a thriller writer, Alex Dolan is set to be one of the best.” —Fresh Fiction
 
“[An] action-packed story . . . Arriving with eerily uncanny timing, Alex Dolan’s debut novel, The Euthanist, tackles the prickly topic of death with dignity.” —San Jose Mercury News

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626815483
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 02/06/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 274
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Alex Dolan is the author of THE EUTHANIST (Diversion Books, 2015). He is an executive committee member of the San Francisco Bay Area's Litquake festival, and a member of the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors program and Sisters in Crime. In addition, he has recorded four music albums, and received his master's degree from Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Every autumn is tarantula mating season around Mount Diablo. Horny male spiders roam through the twiggy grass to find their soul mates in a sort of spider Burning Man. They say spiders are more afraid of us, but that's bullshit. They don't even see us. They incite terror with their furry little legs and never know the havoc they wreak in our lives. If you were like me and grew up having nightmares about tarantulas, you would probably avoid the area like a nuclear testing zone.

Normally I'd have steered clear, but on this day I was driving through spider country to see a client. Bugs shouldn't scare a grown woman, but driving here made me nervous. A shrink once told me being afraid of spiders meant I wasn't aggressive enough. Then we talked about my stepdad.

He asked, "What is your stepfather like?"

"He's the sort of man who places a dead spider on your alarm clock to see how you react."

"I don't understand the metaphor," he said.

"It's not a metaphor. My stepfather put a dead tarantula on my alarm clock when I was nine. So when it went off, I hit the spider instead of the clock."

My doc dropped his notes. "Why the hell would he do that?"

"Because he's a fucking sociopath. He sat by my bed when it happened, I think just so he could see the look on my face."

"How did you react?"

"How do you think? I screamed my head off."

The shrink had eyeballed me the way that psychic magician looked at a spoon he wanted to bend. I think he was wondering if I was lying, and if not, what he should do with me. "Do you speak to him?"

"Not since he went to prison."

After Gordon's spider stunt, big hairy bugs petrified me. The alarm clock wasn't the only time he pulled that crap either. He hid another one in my underwear drawer, and another at the bottom of a Balinese tin box where my mom held her "guilt" chocolate. The fear wasn't irrational, not if you half expected them to pop up like Easter eggs. I still shake out my shoes in the mornings, in case there's one curled up in the toe. Once I was old enough to have my own apartment, a Zen chime dinged across the bedroom in the morning, so I had nothing to slap on the nightstand.

Because of my fear of spiders, I cautiously rounded the hairpin turns through the foothills of Clayton. Hands at five and seven o'clock. One of those fuckers came out of nowhere — a brown spider the size of my fist boogied across the road. If I'd seen it coming, maybe I would have sped up and smushed it under a tire. But it flew into the road like it was in the Olympic trials, and, for whatever reason, I jammed on the brakes. On this vacant road with the paper clip bends, the car erked to a standstill. The spider paused. Tarantulas are predators themselves, so they know what hunting behavior looks like. It sensed the enormity of the vehicle, its hot breath and growling motor hovering over it. For a moment, it might have actually been afraid. But then it skittered across the asphalt and into the wild brush off the shoulder. Maybe later when it wooed its amour, it would recount this story so it could get some spider cooch.

My hands strangled the wheel, forearms buzzing with the motor's vibration. I hated myself for being spooked.

Behind me, the driver of a matte brick truck blasted the horn. I found the honk comforting, human. I wasn't afraid of people who weren't my stepdad, not even a big ugly guy like this one with the Civil War sideburns. The horn ripped a second time. Stopped in the road like a moron, I might have felt bad, but he mouthed swears at me in the rearview. His grill kissed my bumper, and I could feel the tremor of his engine. Maybe I didn't step on the gas because I wanted to provoke a reaction. My shrink liked to tell me I was combative. Whatever. If he stepped out of his rust monster, I'd make quick work of his knees with the tire iron I kept on the passenger floor. I made him go around me, smirking at his tobacco-spit frown as he passed. If I were dressed down he might have called me a bitch, but one look at me and he diverted eyes back to the road. If you stare at someone just the right way, they'll know they're in danger. Or maybe the wig just threw him off.

I remembered my client, Leland Mumm, was waiting for me. He didn't deserve someone to come late with shaky hands, whether those shakes came from arachnophobia or road rage. Not today.

IPF, or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, was killing Leland Mumm. Since his diagnosis three years ago, my client's lungs had stiffened with scar tissue. He described his breathing with two words: shredding lungs. Talking hurt, so he chose his words parsimoniously. For example, he would never have used the word "parsimoniously." Leland's lungs no longer transferred oxygen to his bloodstream, so the rest of his organs didn't get the oxygen they needed. Piece by piece, his insides were slowly suffocating.

Brutal way to go. Not Desdemona's gracious death in bush-league productions of Othello. From what Leland described, it was more like a pincushion bursting in the chest. Doctors weren't much help, because medicine didn't really understand the disease. With IPF, the agony is constant, and it can take five years to die.

In Leland's video interviews, he had trouble sitting up straight. He tipped to the side after a few minutes. Eventually we had to tape him in bed. Not the most flattering angle, but I adjusted the lighting to minimize the eye rings.

The video conveyed personal messages to friends and family. Last wishes. I burned DVDs to be mailed out when he passed, so he could explain why he was doing something most people would think was nuts, even selfish. Ten years ago, before I got started, clients might have sent their last messages by post. Some still wrote letters. I preferred video because it felt more intimate. In case cops in black riot gear rammed my door, the video also proved I was working with my client's consent.

When we first met, Leland could manage more words before his lungs pinched. He insisted we record a message to his wife, who had passed away a few years ago. In short bursts, he pieced a story together about when they first dated. The moment he realized he loved her. They were walking along the endless Berkeley Pier when a fisherman yanked a crab out of the Bay and it flew into her. Leland had known then he wanted to protect her. I'll admit, I admired the chivalry. When he got to the word "crab," he twisted in the sheets with a shock of pain.

I spoke to his pulmonologist by phone, but, paranoid about the legal fallout, she refused to meet me in person. Dr. Jocelyn Thibeault. She sounded austere, over-enunciating her English. I imagined her thin with telephone pole posture, probably in her fifties. She mailed Leland's medical records to a P.O. Box so I could peek at the X-Rays. I'm no pulmonary specialist, but the doctor talked me through the radiograph, so I could see the mess of scar tissue on his lungs.

As with all clients, I met Leland roughly four weeks ago. A month before the terminus. That term feels cold to me, but I wasn't the one who coined it. I suppose you have to give some kind of name to an event that important. In any case, it's not a word I would ever use around Leland Mumm.

Leland wanted to die the first day I met him. He didn't want time to think it over, because he didn't want to lose his nerve. But I insisted on a waiting period to give my clients the chance to get cold feet. It was my own Brady Bill. Two other clients had changed their minds at their moments of truth. During the first meeting clients were eager. They thirsted for relief and could forget that they needed to put their affairs in order. The good-byes. The legal documents. Sometimes a final house cleaning. When we met, Leland didn't want me to leave. He pulled at my dress with a weak hand, imploring me to ease his pain. The best I could do was morphine.

In most cases, I'd meet the family, usually a spouse. Leland didn't have anyone he wanted me to meet. I didn't push him. A typical client would introduce me to his doctor, but because of her qualms, Her Majesty Dr. Thibeault refused to be in the same room as the executioner. So it was just Leland and me.

Leland was young for a client — only fifty-two, according to his records. He had a long build, and I suspected he'd had more meat on him before the disease. IPF had eaten away at the muscle, especially in his arms and legs.

Over the past month, I visited his hillside ranch house in Clayton once a week. I'd gotten to know the ochre peels of the bathroom wallpaper, the bend where the wood veneer had pulled away from the wall. This was the house where Leland grew up, and it looked like it hadn't changed much. Leland didn't open windows either, turning the house into a gardener's hotbed. Stale sweat and urine fermented the air.

While I helped with the good-byes and the legal documents, we chatted. Leland admitted he didn't have many visitors, and he seemed happy to hear another voice in his home. Because his condition ruined his lungs, he wanted me to do most of the talking. He asked a lot of questions. This was natural. People are curious. People are especially curious about the woman who's going to kill them. I shared anecdotes about myself, but never real facts. For my own safety, I didn't use my real name. My work required anonymity. My parents also raised me with an audacious sense of theatricality. If I were honest with myself, I also enjoyed having a stage persona.

Kali. That's the name I used with clients.

Kali is the four-armed Hindu goddess of death. She has been appropriated by hipster flakes as a symbol of feminine power. Maybe that's fair too. But make no mistake, Kali is a destructress. In one of her hands she holds a severed head.

I know, I know, so fucking dramatic. I'll admit to a little cultural appropriation for choosing a name like that. I don't know squat about Hindu culture. I don't even practice yoga. Since I was so gung ho about picking the name of a goddess, I could have found something more fitting. The best match might have been Ixtab, the Mayan goddess of suicide, also known as Rope Woman; but really, who was going to pronounce that? I almost chose Kalma, a Finnish goddess of death and decay, whose name meant, "the stench of corpses." But way too gruesome, right? I wanted to comfort my clients. Kali sounded like a normal name. I needed a fake identity, but I didn't want to be flippant about my work.

Because of his staccato breathing, Leland sometimes needed two breaths to cough out my name. "Ka-li." He pronounced it the way people pronounce "Cali" instead of saying "California." Some clients pronounced it "Kay-lee." It's actually "Kah-lee," but I never corrected anyone. It was a fake name, so what did it matter? I wasn't going to be the snooty five-star waiter who tells patrons it's pronounced fi- LAY instead of fillettes.

Leland was slow with words, but that didn't mean he was speechless. To imagine the way he talked, you'd have to insert ellipses every two or three words, and not where you'd want to put them. On our last visit, he asked with effort, "What does your dad think of all this?"

This edged against my boundaries, but I indulged the question. "He died." Dad, not stepdad.

"Sorry."

"Me too. He was a good dad."

"Did you help him pass?"

"Not unless I talked him to death."

"What was his name?" We both knew this was forbidden territory, but he couldn't help himself.

"Mr. Kali."

He smiled. We were just playing.

Slowly, I found out more about my client. A geologist, Leland spent most of his career working for mining companies. The hardest stint he'd ever pulled was a gold mine up in Canada, within a hundred miles of the Arctic Circle. As a sci-fi geek, he called it Ice Planet Hoth. In the summer he couldn't sleep. In the winter he drank too much and got belligerent. He showed me a scar on his stomach from where a feverish colleague stabbed him after twenty days without sun. It's not unreasonable to guess that he'd gotten lung disease after years of particulate pollution. Then again, he'd been a smoker for decades. After his diagnosis, the company gave him a settlement. Not fat enough to live like a rap mogul, but enough to keep the house and feed himself.

I was getting close to Leland's, curving through the octopus-branched oaks in the Mount Diablo foothills. Parched grass the color of camel fur scrambled up the slow grade where the hiking trails picked up. The neighborhood, if you could call it a neighborhood, was a sparse network of small homes buffered by a half mile of wild land. Leland told me wild boar roamed back here. That might have been horseshit, but I believed it.

Leland lived in a tumbledown single-story home with loose brown shingles. The roof slouched, and the sun and rain had wrung out the sides like driftwood. It had the sort of beat-up charm that might attract attention from budding photographers and painters. I thought scientists made a lot of money, but not him. Perhaps he spent it on something else.

I parked alongside his cream sedan, a Chevrolet Monte Carlo from the eighties, which, like the house, must have been perfect three decades ago. Like one of those old refrigerators that kids locked themselves in. A classic. Now the mountain's clay dust streaked the tires and the trunk didn't close all the way.

The neighborhood had banished noisemaking, unless you counted hawk screeches. So Leland probably heard my engine. He would be expecting me, but I stayed in the car a moment longer to collect myself. This was all part of the preparation. After five years and twenty-seven clients, my nerves still rattled before the final meeting. This was more stressful than my paramedic work. When I charged into buildings in my other job, there was at least a chance I might save someone.

My ritual was similar before every terminus. I used my rental car as a dressing room — a green room, if you will. Any driver who's spewed hellfire at another motorist can tell you cars offer the delusion of privacy. So in my car I soothed myself, pretending no one was watching. My particular mode of relaxation began by flexing my body. I mean toes to top — every muscle. It sounds stupid, but it works. Flex and release. Flex and release. Loosens up the whole body. Prior to something this important, it also reminded me I was strong. Everyone has a point of pride, and mine was muscles. Mine weren't so big that they were scary, but notable for a girl.

I adjusted a purple wig so the bangs paralleled my eyebrows and painted lavender liner on my eyelids. My lips darkened to burnt wood. The last patches of makeup came from two dainty ziplock packets in my purse. If it weren't for the gray coloring, the packets might have looked like flour or cocaine. They were tiny ounces of ash, two bags worth. I dipped a pinky in each, and applied a smidge to each side of my neck. Nothing to alter the overall look of my costume — the smears of ash were added for my own benefit and undetectable to my clients.

This particular outfit matched Leland's tastes, but I always dressed loud for this work. An old boyfriend once said I had a kitten face. Another boy said my face was too soft to be on a body like mine. I took this to mean that people thought my features looked infantile, or at the very least juvenile, and I didn't want my clients feeling like some toddler was steering them into the afterlife. The makeup matured me, sharpening my features, so I looked fierce, even lethal. Like a scimitar-wielding death goddess. When I looked in the mirror, the severity of my face now fit the character I adopted for this work. Kali stared sharply back at me.

Rental cars have such sweet air conditioning, and as soon as I stepped outside I started to sweat. Sun scorched the driveway here on the ass-side of the mountain. The wet warmth of the morning foretold a muggy afternoon. I dabbed my forehead with a tissue. I didn't get two steps out of the car when I saw the black spider running across the walkway. Jesus, they moved fast. And this was a big one, the size of a goldfinch. But being Kali charged me with courage, and I thrummed with epinephrine. Without hesitation, I brought my heel down and crunched it like an ice cream cone, scraping my sole off on the pavement.

When I entered, the fetor almost pillowed me. Leland didn't smell like other clients. Most smelled like they were dying, but this was worse than death. The air rotted like a summer dumpster. I stifled an involuntary gag, nothing Leland could have seen. According to Dr. Thibeault, a nurse cleaned him every few days, but it didn't help with the fumes. This suffering man managed to emit a decay that seemed inhuman.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Euthanist"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Alex Dolan.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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