Cover image for Jitter joint
Jitter joint
Swindle, Howard, 1945-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
241 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In Jitter Joint, award-winning journalist Howard Swindle delivers Jeb Quinlin, a Dallas homicide detective combating crime-and his own personal demons."The weak and pitiful shall perish... "Jeb Quinlin has been issued an ultimatum by his boss and his wife: dry out or get out. So he hits his favorite bar for a last fifth of Wild Turkey and reluctantly enters detox. Once inside, Jeb is forced to confront his years of alcoholism with the help of Librium, hard-core therapy, and AA meetings. But someone is taking the words of the Big Book too far, as rehab patients begin to die mysteriously, each tagged with one of AA's Twelve Steps. Now Jeb is on a sobering hunt for the Twelve-Stepkiller, a twisted psychopath who's taking the battle with the bottle to horrifying new heights...

Author Notes

Howard Swindle is a Pulitzer Prize-winning news editor for the Dallas Morning News and the author of three true-crime books, including Edgar-nominated Trespasses: Portrait of a Serial Rapist. Jitter Joint is his first novel. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Meet Jeb Quinlin, much-admired Dallas homicide detective, indifferent husband, and successful alcoholic. Following an intervention by his estranged wife Sarah, who threatens to divorce him, and Captain Barrick, who threatens to fire him, Jeb checks himself into Cedar Ridge Hospital, an upscale alcohol rehabilitation clinic. When some of the clinic's past and current patients begin turning up dead, Jeb is asked to investigate. A serial killer is tying each murder to one of the 12 steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, but the cause of death has mystified the police and the medical examiner. In this first novel, Swindle has created an interesting protagonist and surrounded him with multifaceted supporting characters, notably the other patients in the clinic, a Pulitzer Prize^-winning newspaper writer, and a tough-as-nails counselor. Quinlin's uneasy relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous adds further texture to this solid offering. --George Needham

Publisher's Weekly Review

Delirium tremens turns to trembling fear in this fast, tense fiction debut by Swindle, a three-time Pulitzer Prize- winner for newspaper editing. Under pressure from his boss, Captain Bill Barrick, and from his disaffected wife, hard-drinking homicide detective Jeb Quinlin finds himself off his Dallas beat and reluctantly drying out in a fancy AA clinic. Jeb's road to recovery is diverted, though, when the members of his therapy group (run by the loathsome Dr. Wellman Bergoff), one by one, turn up literally dead drunk. The AA slogans scrawled across the victims' corpses‘"Our lives had become unmanageable" or "God grant me the serenity"‘cause Jed to suspect an inside job. The violence escalates when Barrick puts him on the case, a move that threatens to push the detective off the wagon. Swindle (Trespasses: Portrait of a Serial Rapist) sweats his hero past multiple threats in a plot steeped in AA ambiance‘perhaps too deeply for some readers' taste‘without losing a suspenseful edge. Car chases and fight scenes are film-clip clear while goofy characters gel in a credible story with an ending that points, happily, to a possible series. Agent, Janet Wilkins Manus. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

That line separating fact from fiction has always been a fine one in Texas, so it would seem natural for Swindle to try an Edna Buchanan career move. A three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editor for the Dallas Morning News and the author of such true crime titles as Trespasses: Portrait of a Serial Rapist (Viking, 1996), Swindle has turned his hand to suspense and comes up with a winner. Jeb Quinlin is a Dallas homicide detective and an alcoholic. His wife is leaving him, and thanks to the efforts of his supervisor (who just happens to be his wife's lover), he's "voluntarily" taking the rest cure at a toney rehab clinic. There three residents have recently met untimely ends, with AA slogans scrawled in lipstick across their bodies. Swindle manages to breathe new life into the serial killer genre. His ability to keep several plot lines careening along at Texas highway speed and a good eye for Dallas detail combine in an explosive mix. This should be the start of a very successful series. For all public libraries.‘Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     He plunked two ice cubes into the glass and submerged them with Johnnie Walker Black. The movement was rote, and he kept his eyes on the graying man sitting poolside.     "So what's it been, two years, three?" the old man asked.     "Two," he said, moving to the chair across the table. "It was in the courtroom. I'm not surprised you repressed it. You don't have a lot of experience with defeat."     The man with Johnnie Walker hoisted his glass in an eye-level toast, fixed his visitor with a stony glare, and downed the scotch. He spoke while the burn was still in his throat, and his voice came out raspy and short.     "Think I'll have another," he said, leaning forward in his chair.     "No, let me."     Behind the portable bar, the young man poured another Johnnie Black. Casually, just as he had practiced, he moved his hand from the pocket of his blue blazer over the glass. There was no fizz when the pills hit bottom, and he watched them dissolve almost immediately. Still, he gave it two strokes with a swizzle stick. He spotted a bottle of Jack Daniel's, but he fought off the urge. He poured himself a glass of soda instead, squeezing in a quartered lime.     "You know," he said, pushing the scotch across the table to the old man, "that's going to finally kill you."     "Not in your lifetime," he said. "That would give you way too much satisfaction. Cheers."     They clinked their glasses, never taking their eyes off each other.     The older inhaled the drink in two swallows. His brow wrinkled curiously as he guided the glass back to the table. His face flushed, and his eyes locked wide on his guest.     The younger man sipped his soda, savoring the shock in the man's eyes.     "You know," he said, "I've made this a lot less painful than you've made it for me."     The gray-haired man slumped forward in his chair, clasping both palms over his heart, his chin falling onto his chest. His gasps were from deep inside, and they shook his shoulders. A gurgling sound came from within his guts, and a faint bubble of spittle formed at the corner of his mouth.     Across the table, the young man marveled at the redness of the man's skin. His face and neck, even his hands, looked as if they been blistered by the sun. The reaction had been almost instantaneous, much quicker than he had anticipated, and he smiled at his own efficiency.     "You're a dead man," the younger one said. "You're dying just as surely and certainly as if I had shot you in the head. You need to know that so you can appreciate what I'm about to say. It's a final thought, one you can carry with you to hell."     He studied his prey as he spoke, watching the old man's chest heave and the muscles contort in his face. He'd never seen him vulnerable, ever, and now he was mesmerized by his helplessness. He had fought off the urge for a Jack Daniel's himself, and now, he realized, he didn't need it. He was soothed, uncommonly tranquil. The euphoria of killing was better than bourbon.     "This isn't about money," he said, realizing his message was about to be lost. "That's what you tell people, but it's never been about money. You know what it's about. You never accepted responsibility for what you did. Now, you see, you have no choice."     The young man in the blazer checked his Rolex and rose from the chair. He walked behind the gasping man, grabbed him roughly by the back of his collar, and pulled his torso straight in the chair. He reached over the man's shoulder and shoved a laminated card into his shirt pocket. He released his grip on the collar and the man's face fell hard into the table, knocking the empty scotch glass onto the marble deck and shattering it.     The young man walked alongside the cabana to the wrought-iron gate, fashioned, as were most things at the Highland Park estate, with the logo of an oil derrick bearing the name Dora I . He heard retching behind him, and he paused at the gardenia bush, leaning into it to take in its sweet fragrance. He snapped the stem on one of the white blooms, trimmed a few leaves, and guided the stem through the lapel in his blazer.     Then he headed around the house to the circular drive and the black Porsche. Chapter Two     Jeb Quinlin was a man without viable options. He had had no choice but to succumb to the conspiracy between Sarah, the estranged wife from the far side of hell, and Captain Bill Barrick, the warm-and-fuzzy, new-breed chief of Crimes Against Persons ten years his junior.     The pair had tactfully referred to the ambush in his own den as an "intervention," just two people who cared deeply about him and who wanted to see him straight and sober. They could call it anything they wanted, but truth was, Sarah had him by one testicle and the good captain had him by the other. Together, they had cracked his balls like walnuts. It was extortion, Quinlin knew, pure and simple.     The former was threatening divorce, which at that turbulent juncture in their marriage was neither here nor there. But Texas was a community property state; divorce meant that Sarah would walk with half his retirement. For the last several years, the pension was all that kept Quinlin playing the game. He had earmarked that money long ago for fifty acres and a log house in the remotest pocket of Deep East Texas he could find, as far from asphalt, skyscrapers, sociopaths, and assholes like Barrick as he could get.     The latter, the ever-sensitive Captain Fuzzy, had already "temporarily" suspended him. He had relieved him of his badge and city-issue .357 Smith & Wesson and was hinting at outright termination.     Neither had bought Quinlin's argument that his so-called problem was actually just the residual debris from the meanest five months of his career in Crimes Against Persons, or CAPERS, as cops called it. He had had a high-profile, big-dollar insurance tycoon with a tag on his toe, and five heirs, including a trophy wife twenty years younger who couldn't keep her legs together, with millions of motive. Not to mention two business partners who wouldn't have pissed on the deceased if he were a human torch. Fact was, Barry M. Hawthorne was universally despised and had littered his road to success with the bodies of everyone with whom he'd ever shaken hands. Only hours into the investigation, Quinlin figured the only way the family could throw a funeral was with court-appointed pallbearers.     Hawthorne's murder was high-society intrigue, and it led the front page and ten o'clock news for weeks. Inside Edition had done a full half-hour on the wheeler-dealer, focusing on his Horatio Alger beginnings, following his conglomerate of far-flung insurance companies and ending, of course, with a grainy close-up of Hawthorne sprawled in his own blood beside his red Jaguar convertible. In the eleventh hour, under unrelenting pressure from the brass and the media, and just when Quinlin was about to offer up the insurance executive's daughter to a grand jury, he had closed the case with a totally different suspect.     An investor, scammed in an insurance deal five years earlier, had bought the murder weapon from a convicted felon. And when the ex-con gun dealer got upside down with the police for dealing guns out of his trunk, he gave up the juiciest piece of information he possessed to save his own hide. Quinlin knew his high-profile case had been a near miss. Had he offered up the got-rocks heiress, his career--and pension--would have passed before his very eyes.     In the aftermath, he had diluted the stress with booze, and some events of that particular period had become substantially woozy, Quinlin reluctantly admitted, but it was nothing a little R&R wouldn't resolve. Barrick, of all people, should have had some appreciation. Quinlin had managed to pull him from the dung heap, too, and leave him smelling like a rose. The captain had appeared coolly confident and professional at the press conference, making it appear for the cameras that he had known all along about the vindictive business partner Quinlin had discovered only twenty-four hours earlier.     Time, and a modicum of understanding, Quinlin pointedly had told Barrick and Sarah, and things would smooth out. They always had.     Quinlin's argument had fallen on deaf ears. Theirs was the only deal on the table. Nor did they offer any guarantees as inducement. He supposed that was the beauty of ultimatums. Only one side could issue one, which meant the poor bastard target with no leverage ultimately had to bend over and take it in his BVDs. He had worked the ultimatum himself a hundred times from the other side of the table, gouging suspects with evidence, even an occasional bluff, until they coughed it up and saw things his way.     There were no guarantees in his case, Sarah and Boy Wonder had made that crystal clear. The marriage and the job might or might not be there in twenty-eight days, the minimum he would have to spend in whiskey school. Yet, they claimed, his future was in his own hands. He had heard smarter strategies from speed freaks.     "I'll tell you this," Captain Barrick had told him, sitting in his own favorite recliner, "you have no chance whatsoever, not with the Dallas Police Department or apparently with your marriage, if you don't go to the hospital right now and take care of this, uh, problem."     They were accusing him of being a certifiable drunk, but they didn't have the guts to say it. They used euphemisms; he had a "problem," they said, a "situation."     "You say no to this, uh, `opportunity,' and, well, both your options end right here and now," the captain said. "Your call, Detective."     Across the coffee table, Sarah nodded silently. They were in lockstep. Quinlin studied his boots momentarily, then abruptly headed for the master bedroom. He recognized the old feeling; he had to leave. He didn't know where he was going. It never mattered. He couldn't stay. He threw several pairs of Wranglers and a few starched shirts into a canvas bag, and grabbed a pair of tan Tony Lama ostriches. He was leaving. That was certain. But where? In the master bath, he threw his razor, aftershave, toothbrush, and toothpaste into the bag. He stopped at the front door on his way out. The decision was split-second.     "Call the hospital," he had said finally, locking on Barrick's eyes. "You can tell 'em I'll be there in the morning."     He saw Sarah out of the corner of his eye. She held her head in her hands, and he thought she was crying.     "All this talk about my personal welfare is pretty damned heartwarming, Barrick, and I'm sure Sarah thinks you're a real sensitive guy. But we both know it doesn't have a goddamned thing to do with what's going on here. I do my job. I'm there every day. And when the squad draws one that's going to cause you problems, one that'll show your ass or get you fried in the media, I'm the first one you come to.     "I stay alive by reacting," Quinlin said, "by reading people. I'm damned good at it, too. What I'm reading here is that you're a paper-shuffling piece of garbage. You're a brown-nosing bureaucrat who couldn't make it on the street. Bottom line, you're a phony bastard, Barrick. You're a three-dollar bill of a human being. Add that to your file."     Quinlin spent the night a quarter-mile from his house, holed up in a La Quinta with a bucket of ice and a fifth of Wild Turkey. He drank and listened to the highway noise and stared at the ceiling until the Turkey anesthetized him. Quinlin's head was awash in turbulence, the self-induced, virulent strain that he felt even in the pit of his stomach where ethanol and acid apparently had rendezvoused to produce radiator flush. Cautiously, he had inventoried his symptoms in a cold shower: Weak knees, shakiness in his extremities, and a felony case of cottonmouth. The prescription was familiar: Just avoid abrupt movements, anything that would jar his head, and hold off on the black coffee for fifteen minutes or so. But self-pity and Wild Turkey, he was able to determine, were potentially lethal.     Circumstances considered, he felt he had pulled himself together relatively well until he opened the door. The early morning sun slammed him in the face like an iron skillet. Even through his Ray-Bans, he felt the lasers of pain all the way to the back of his skull, which he suspected was lined with aluminum foil. Blinking was masochistic. The turbulence in his cranium upgraded to a full-fledged typhoon. He squinted and retreated backward into the darkened motel room until he felt the edge of the bed against the back of his legs. Delicately, as if he had a stick of dynamite between his knees, he lowered his butt onto the bed and breathed shallowly, with his elbows on his thighs.     Ultimately, the walk through the parking lot in the fresh air was recuperative. He inhaled the late April crispness into his lungs, cautiously at first, and as the cool oxygen made its way to the pain centers, he could feel the muck clearing from his head and gut. Clear enough for habit to overtake common sense. Sensing the onset of a month-long drought, he turned the fifteen-minute drive to Cedar Ridge Hospital into three hours.     He detoured to a narrow, two-story brick building on the frayed southern fringe of downtown and pulled into a parking space beside the front door. When his eyes adjusted to the dark, familiar confines of the Probable Cause, he spotted a group of DPD stragglers from deep nights arguing affirmative action at a corner table.     "Miranda ain't shit, it's this quota crap that's ruining law enforcement," a white patrolman said, apparently winding up a dissertation on forced equality. "Until four years ago, this big-assed woman that's my sergeant was a fuckin' 911 operator. She can't cover your back, but she can damned well cover the front seat."     "And her mustache is heavier than yours," yelled someone to immediate guffaws.     Billy Earle Gibson, who had spent twenty-five years carrying a badge, had just finished san-o-flushing the women's john. He was appropriately aghast when Quinlin told him about the conspiracy.     "You tellin' me a man's wife and his needle-dick captain can get by with that kinda shit, just like that?" the barkeep asked, snapping two fat fingers. "Just pronounce a man an alcoholic and force him into a hospital? Even baby-rapers get due process. Hey, I'm glad I pulled the pin when I did. The department's more chicken shit every day."     They commiserated and dissected the dilemma every which way looking for a loophole. Periodically, Billy Earle reurged a course of action that entailed a baseball bat across the captain's kneecaps. In the duration, they oiled the conversation with four or five stiff Turkey and waters. Two hours later, when Quinlin went for his wallet, Billy Earle, in a charitable act unprecedented at the PC, held up an ample hand, palm out.     "No, these here are on the house," the old cop barkeep said. "I'll have one waiting on you when you get out."     Quinlin drove three blocks down the back alley to avoid going the wrong way on a one-way and pulled into the drive-up window at Willie's Cut-'n-Run, where he bought a drive-time six-pack of Bud Lite.     Lost, more lost, and finally found, Quinlin ultimately made out a sign that said CEDAR RIDGE HOSPITAL--LONG-TERM PATIENT PARKING. He wedged the International Scout into a space so close to a yuppie Lexus that he had to extricate himself, his bag, and boots from the passenger side. He stood beside the Scout until he killed the lone surviving Bud Lite and pitched the empty into his aluminum recycling project on the back floorboard.     Once inside the lobby and finally--mercifully--out of the sun's glare, Quinlin followed the blue arrows on the floor to Admissions. A clerk, someone's long-haired, lithesome, nineteen-year-old daughter, performed a wallet biopsy and photocopied his insurance card. She produced a sheaf of paperwork, loaded it into a printer, and began typing on her computer. Quinlin noticed a pink, sticky note attached to the papers and reached for it. It said Upon admission, notify Capt. Bill Barrick, Homicide Division, Dallas Police Department . The bastard.     Quinlin watched the clerk's long fingers on the keyboard. The process reminded him of getting drafted, with a stranger asking him for personal information then typing for blocks of time, digesting his history without comment.     "And who should we notify in case of emergency?"     "Geneva Quinlin," he said, surprised at the defiance in his voice. He spelled his mother's name and dictated her address and phone number into the record. Sarah was a co-conspirator, and she could jam it. He wasn't sure she'd even answer an emergency call.     In the blank labeled PROGNOSIS, he watched her type in 305 .     "What's a 305?" he asked.     "It's just an insurance code," the clerk said. "Means alcoholism. Well, actually, chronic alcoholism."     Quinlin didn't realize he was crying until the young lovely shoved the box of tissues across the counter. Then he couldn't stop. Down the sterile, high-sheen corridor and beyond the electronically controlled doors of Cedar Ridge Substance Abuse Unit, a nurse finally steered Quinlin through a solid white door stenciled in two-foot, red letters that said DETOX.     The room was barely the size of cells that Detective Jeb Roy Quinlin had used over the last seventeen years to deposit various of Dallas's most notorious and violent societal dregs. It was one of three detoxification rooms that faced a circular nurses' station, which appeared to be the hub of five wings that ran like spokes from the center. Collectively, according to the sign he saw on the way in, the five wings constituted the Cedar Ridge Psychiatric Pavilion. The complex was hidden in a clump of twenty-foot cedars behind the real hospital.     Pine-scented disinfectant hung in the air, burning the back of his sinuses and agitating the fresh batch of radiator flush in his gut. His eyes took in the cramped room, and he imagined himself trapped inside a mammoth cotton ball. The walls and ceiling were white, the floor was off-white, and the bed had white hospital sheets, but no spread. The white toilet was in a white-tiled cubicle with no door, and a walk-in shower was concealed by a white shower curtain. Except for the bed, a metal nightstand welded onto the bedframe, and a metal IV stand, also welded to the frame, the room was devoid of furniture. The premise was the same as a jail cell, Quinlin figured: There was nothing that could be grabbed and thrown. Outside the four vertical, rectangular windows was a pie-shaped courtyard that backed onto another spoke in the crazy hub. It didn't escape his notice that the wire-meshed windows had no handles. Not that it mattered. The windows were so narrow Tiny Tim couldn't get through them.     Quinlin heard the door creak behind him and watched a colossal man the color of coal tar, wearing a bright white uniform, load his canvas bag and extra pair of boots onto a small cart. The attendant motioned at Quinlin and said, "Just step out of your clothes, your underwear, your socks, and your boots." Then he left him naked with a drawstring gown and a list of rules.      Coal Tar returned minutes later with a clipboard and wanted to know precisely when Quinlin had consumed his last drink. The attendant was not amused when Quinlin looked at his watch, grinned his crooked grin, and said dryly, "A good fifteen, maybe twenty minutes ago. Thanks for asking."      "You're an acutely funny guy," Coal Tar said without looking up from his clipboard. "Gimme your watch. You can keep the ring if you want."     Quinlin looked at his wedding ring and slipped it off, too. The technician dropped it into a brown envelope, sealed it, and wrote its contents on the outside. It was a lot like processing a prisoner.     The hulking man then went through a checklist of medications, wanting to know if Quinlin was allergic to any of them. Quinlin answered yes only to penicillin.     "How you know?" Coal Tar asked.     "Because it turns my skin the color of a spanked baby's butt," Quinlin said, "and my heart races like a scalded dog. Say, any chance I could get my smokes back?"     "Not until you get outta detox," Coal Tar said, turning to another checklist on family history. "Answer yes if any of the following apply. Any blood relatives suffer from cancer, heart condition, arthritis, asthma, chronic bronchitis, alcoholism ..."     "Oh yeah," Quinlin said. "Father."     "He ever undergo treatment?"     "Yeah, he treated himself to everything he could get his hands on. Four Roses, Falstaff, Thunderbird, vanilla extract, rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, whatever was available."     "Prognosis?" It was a blank on the form.     "Roadkill. A gen-u-ine loss to humanity."     Coal Tar caught Quinlin staring sideways into the floor-length, metal mirror bolted to the wall.     "Lose your attitude, work the program, and get your act straight," the big man said, "and you won't look that way when you walk out of here next month."     The interruption rescued Quinlin from a curious thought that had appeared in the mirror from nowhere. The sixty graduating members of his tiny Central Texas high school had voted him the handsomest guy in class. In their early years together, Sarah had called him The Marlboro Man, and claimed he made the rugged model on the billboards look like a fairy. Quinlin shook his head at the mirror. The Marlboro Man was long gone. The reflection of the forty-three-year-old substitute, he had to admit, looked more like the deep-fried crackheads and street scum he put in jail. The image was a dramatic revelation. How, he wondered, had he managed to shave every morning and not notice his own demise? And who was twisted enough to put a floor-length mirror in a detox room?     Barefoot and reduced to the white hospital gown, Quinlin was six-foot, rail thin, and noticeably slumped. Salt had replaced much of the pepper in his mustache, a cancerous trend that had metastasized at his temples. Pulling the polo shirt over his head had left a cowlick at the top of his head, making him a ringer for Ichabod Crane's lip-dribbling little brother. Notwithstanding the three-inch scar on his chin, a tribute to the cold efficiency of brass knuckles, his sun-parched face was an odometer rolled over with rough miles. The blue in his eyes was still penetrating, but the pupils were surrounded by a network of bulged red capillaries that looked like a Rand McNally map.     Coal Tar was in the middle of the door on his way out.     "Your mamma must be awful proud," the big attendant said, "abso-fuckin'-lutely proud of your white ass."     Quinlin could hear him laughing down the hall long after the door closed.     Every six hours during the first day, a nurse appeared with a tiny paper cup of Librium, a tranquilizer, and, stunningly, a jigger of hundred-proof vodka. She had heard the question a hundred times. With the bored reflex of a flight attendant pointing out emergency exits, the nurse said, "You've got to detox slowly or you could go into alcoholic seizure. Occasionally, the seizures can be fatal."     The vodka was discontinued after twenty-four hours; the Librium continued. Quinlin missed the vodka, not because he had ever liked its taste or even appreciated its jolt. But it was his only remaining link with the real world. Everything else in detox was muted and blurred, unearthly artificial and sterile.     Periodically, nurses appeared with trays of food, and the green blobs in one compartmentalized part of the plastic tray tasted like the white and yellow blobs in the compartments next to it. There apparently wasn't a grain of salt in the whole damned hospital. Coffee and tea were mandatorily decaffeinated--the guards didn't want inmates trading one addiction for another--and except for the fact that one commodity was lukewarm in a cup and the other was lukewarm in a glass, the brown liquids were wholly indistinguishable.     Mostly, Quinlin dozed around the clock, a fitful, jerking excuse for sleep that kept him off balance and made him dread drifting off. Sleep wasn't an elective exercise, not with the Librium. He dreamed of floating on gauzy white clouds, then suddenly hitting a patch of blue and falling. He was swimming in sunlight, then drowning at the bottom of a pitch-dark pit. He was walking down a street, then dodging bullets from places he couldn't see. He would awaken, sweaty and clawing at the sheets, and curse Librium. In his few lucid moments, when he had a memory, he craved a Wild Turkey and Bud Lite chaser. He cursed Barrick and Sarah, imagining them sweaty and sated in his own bed. Was that part of the conspiracy? Or was it Librium-induced paranoia? It was irrelevant. He cursed them anyway.     Depending on the shift, one of three nurses appeared at his bedside every two hours with a thermometer, a velcro blood pressure cuff, and a stethoscope that they apparently kept in the refrigerator. They were heavy into efficiency and devoid of bedside manner. If the nurses spoke at all, it was a perfunctory response to a question, and sometimes just a nod or a grunt. At some point on his third day, Quinlin confronted one of them, a particularly haughty, petite, and freckled redhead about forty.     "Tell me, Red," he said, leaning up on one elbow, "are you rude to all patients or just the drunks? Because if you're going out of your way to make me feel like a second-class cit--"     "Mr. Quinlin," she said, "I am a recovering alcoholic. Through the grace of God and the principles of AA, I haven't had a drink in fourteen years. As a matter of fact, most of the nurses, counselors, and attendants on this ward are recovering alcoholics. We're on this ward because we asked to be here. We believe in what we do."     "Well, I was just--"     Red wasn't through. "And the reason we don't say much to patients in detoxification is because we've learned that they're generally too deep into self-pity, denial, and paranoia to make any sense. Nothing I've seen about you makes you an exception."     "Well, I, uh, I..."     She left him in a frigid wake before he could complete the sentence.     At 2:15 p.m. on the fourth day, a Saturday, Coal Tar grabbed Quinlin by his right ankle and jarred him awake. The cart was beside the door, and it contained the clothes and boots Quinlin had worn into the hospital, along with his canvas bag and extra pair of boots. From a good four feet away, the huge attendant heaved a plastic bag of books at him, forcing a groggy Quinlin to shield his privates with one hand and deflect ten pounds of books with the other.     "You could hurt somebody throwing that crap," he yelled to no answer. Quinlin prowled through the bag, pulling out a blue, Bible-sized book with Alcoholics Anonymous written on the cover. "Camp Librium doesn't give T-shirts?"     Coal Tar wrote on a clipboard.     "I give up," Quinlin said, holding the blue book. "You get your voice back, maybe you could tell me what this is."     "It's the Big Book," Coal Tar said. "It'll explain how AA works."     "This is a hospital, right?" Quinlin said, propped now on his elbows. "Nobody said anything to me about AA. I came here for medical treatment, not a prayer meeting."     "Well, this just ain't your day, is it, cowboy?" the attendant said, tossing Quinlin's personal effects onto the bed on top of him. "Naw, see the deal is, we fresh outta magic shots in the ass that make you act like a human being. You're actually gonna have to do some things on your own."     The burly attendant told him to get dressed, gave him directions to the dayroom, and told him to wait there until he found him a room and a roommate.     By 3:00 p.m., Quinlin had located a coffeepot, was disappointed to learn it was decaf, too, and meandered into the dayroom with his possessions, which he piled on the end of a threadbare and badly stained couch. It was twenty feet from the nurses' station; he figured his bag and boots would be safe there.     Walking no more than fifty paces left him weak in the knees, and he stared at his hands, which were shaking uncontrollably. He'd never had the shakes while he was drinking, and he wrote off the twitching to withdrawal. How long, he wondered, would he have to put up with not being able to control his limbs?     He surveyed his new surroundings and caught a tanned pretty-boy in a blazer and khakis being buzzed through the electronic double doors. Quinlin made him for a doctor, probably a young resident, unfortunate enough to have caught weekend duty. He headed straight for the nurses' station. Quinlin couldn't make out their conversation, but he knew he'd misread the guy when the nurse jumped him like a coyote with hemorrhoids. Quinlin's cup was empty, and he headed closer to the nurses' station to the coffeepot.     "So, what, I'm ten minutes late?" the yuppie was saying. "It's not like I was in some bar or something."     "You know the rules about furloughs," she said, pushing a clear plastic specimen container and lid at him. "Have a seat right there. A male attendant will be with you shortly. You'll provide a urine specimen in his presence."     Quinlin caught the man's eye briefly and nodded amiably, but the man wasn't in any mood for pleasantries. He ignored Quinlin and moved to a nearby chair, slamming the specimen jar loudly onto a weathered end table. He methodically arranged the starched pleats in his khakis, pulled the sleeves of his blue shirt precisely a half-inch beyond the blazer's sleeves and stared disgustedly at the ceiling.     Vanity in men was a trait Quinlin couldn't tolerate. One of his wife's colleagues, an interior designer, bragged about owning one hundred pairs of shoes and seventy-five suits. The fop couldn't walk past a plate-glass window without stopping to admire himself. He didn't have a clue who Nolan Ryan was, but you couldn't spend three minutes at a party without him bragging about having once met Tommy Hilfiger. The pretty-boy in the chair was cut from the same cloth. A superficial popdick.     Across the cavernous day room, a TV was locked on a professional wrestling match that had the Russian Rogue and the Masked Marauder grunting and slapping each other. Six hundred pounds of sweating, tattooed flesh was knocking the edge off his Librium, and Quinlin set out to turn it off. He hesitated momentarily when he saw the hand-scrawled sign beneath the on-off button: DO NOT TOUCH THIS DIAL, but he pushed the control anyway, vaporizing the sweathogs just as the Rogue grabbed the Marauder in a phony stomach claw.     "That's not following directions!" The voice from behind startled him. "You've got to be honest or you'll be a lush for the rest of your natural life. This is an issue we'll deal with in group."     The woman stood in the middle of the room, one hand dramatically on her hip. She was tall, dressed in black leggings and a bulky black sweatshirt. Her dark brown hair was up in a ponytail, and she appeared fresh-scrubbed, without a trace of makeup. Her eyes were mischievous, and her lips were full and grinning. She was also the most gorgeous woman Quinlin could recall.     He rose from one knee, smiling. "I'm Jeb Quinlin."     "No, no, no ," she said. "You're supposed to say, `My name is Jeb. I'm an alcoholic.' No last name. It's the anonymous thing, don't you get it?     "Then, see, I say, `My name's Madeline. I'm an alcoholic.' It's the way we do things here on the Road to Recovery."     Road to Recovery? Was she for real or being facetious? Whatever she was, she was trouble. Anyone that beautiful and with that kind of mouth had to be a pain.     "When I get to know you better, probably later this afternoon," she said, holding up a spiral notebook, "I'll share my list of top fifty ways my filthy rich husband has screwed over the American economy as we know it. It'll be a treat. We'll have fun."     A smart-ass, rich bitch, and probably, a castrating feminist to boot. He made a mental note to stay away from her.     The pretty-boy in the leather chair said something to Madeline, but Quinlin couldn't make it out.     "Not on your luckiest day," Madeline told the man, shooting him the finger.     Pretty-Boy managed a feeble grin that couldn't conceal his disappointment. Quinlin figured he wasn't accustomed to being rejected by beautiful women. Pretty-Boy was humiliated; score one for the willowy beauty with the wise mouth.     "So, tell me, Jeb Anonymous," Madeline said, returning her attention to the ward's newest patient. "You don't look like a developer or a banker. That's heartening, trust me on this. Let's see, what must you do in the real world?"     Quinlin saw her fixing on his boots. Slowly, her eyes went up his body, making him self-conscious: Wrangler jeans, hand-tooled belt with sterling silver buckle, and blue-and-white window-pane shirt.     "A blue-eyed cowboy?" she guessed. "No, there aren't any real cowboys anymore. That's way too romantic. C&W singer? I know ..."     "Cop," Quinlin said. The game was already old.     "Like blue suit with a leather ...?"     "Detective," he said. "Homicide detective."     Quinlin couldn't be sure, but he thought her eyes softened. Momentarily, she didn't have a comeback, and they stared at each other awkwardly. He wondered why he told her he was a cop. It wasn't something he normally volunteered. People either asked fifty questions or sneered. And it certainly wasn't any of her business.     Madeline smiled faintly and resumed her trip through the day room. "So, Jeb Anonymous," she called back over her shoulder, "welcome to the Jitter Joint." Jeb Quinlin followed Madeline with his eyes until she disappeared around the corner at the nurses' station. He was instinctive in reading people on first impression, a trait that had been invaluable when it had been just himself and a suspect in an interview room. And in a department with no shortage of substantial egos, even his colleagues frequently asked him to do once-overs with their witnesses just to verify or dispute their opinions about the witnesses' trustworthiness and motivations. Now, Quinlin had to admit, he didn't have a clue about the motivation of the mysterious, beautiful woman who had strolled confidently--or was it arrogantly--through his life in a matter of seconds. Clearly, she had come on haughty, but hadn't she softened at the end? When he said he was a cop? Why did it even matter? Preoccupied, Quinlin walked to the window and found himself staring into the parking lot.     Behind him, the man in the khakis and blue blazer watched, taking in Quinlin's every move. Only after the cop had stood idly at the window several minutes did Pretty-Boy head for the nurses' station. Leaning over the counter, he motioned the nurse to him.     "I really didn't mean to argue with you earlier," the man said. "It's just a misunderstanding, and I apologize. The urine test is no problem, I assure you. It won't show anything.     "By the way," he said, dropping his voice. "That guy over there? I haven't seen him before. How long has he been on the ward?"     The nurse had worked the alcohol ward more than ten years. She knew a con when she heard one, which was about hourly. She merely shrugged.    "Well then, darling," the man said, an edge to his voice, "why don't you and I go take care of this urine test? You might actually enjoy your job."     Pretty-Boy returned to his chair against the wall and watched the man at the window.