Orlando is the canvas for Dan Lopez’s debut novel, The Show House, in which a serial killer stalks gay men in downtown night clubs for unexpected reasons, a pharmacist searches for her missing brother, and a bumbling retiree gets lost taking his granddaughter to Disney. Read an early chapter from the book below and catch Dan Lopez in Orlando (along with Kelly Luce) at Burrow’s Functionally Literate reading this Saturday, January 21.

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You sharpen the knives. There are seven. Monday through Sunday, an ambitious purchase made before you truly understood the way to work. In that way you were naive. In that way even seduced by the capitalist drive, the allure of a better life through acquisition. The fluorescent light above your head flickers. Light then dark. Light then dark. That will need to be fixed before the open house tomorrow. You make a note, then return to the knives. Occasionally, a blade slips off the whetstone and you nick the granite counter.

You won’t use the knives. That exquisite boy with the cornrows showed you a better way. You took to the visceral bond of a tight grip like ink takes to paper. But the act of whetting a blade remains important. The rhythmic skill brings you peace, prepares you for the night. In this way, you are a fisherman or a hunter caring for your tools. It’s a ritual and rituals are important.

You’re not unusual in any outward way. You could be anyone as you slip into an old pair of high-top sneakers. Your black hair, while habitually dull, drapes across your brow conventionally. Your legs are a bit too long for your trunk, maybe, but that’s nothing a vertical stripe can’t fix. You bite your nails. Realistically, this is a fault. A bad one. Your fingers are unattractive. They catch on fabrics. Streamers hang from the ragged edges, which are a liability in your line of work. You must stop biting them.

Wool is out of the question. You grapple with the closet. The door slips off its track again (that’s something else you’ll fix). A velvet blazer will do. It’s creased from how it was folded in your pack. No big deal. Slip it on.

Keys are next.

Find them. Clip them above the left pocket. Your jeans are tight.

Cologne. Watch. Kefia. The remainder, too, follows an order. Perhaps it’s fetishistic of you to exhibit this penchant for order, for exactitude. How silly to care. How uninspired. Outside the clubs, they are careless: they spit; they laugh—

But they die.

People think they know you, that they know everything. Yet they understand nothing.

Can you feel it? Of course you can. A chilly current flows through the air, a variety rare enough in Orlando. Tonight is certainly a night for a sallow, fidgety boy with a stutter, most likely blond. Someone translucent, like the clarity of winter in the City Beautiful.

Pick a location.

Already, you feel the spring of hardwood beneath your feet, the banal conversations between songs. You dance. You will dance.

Location.

Parliament House is impossible. You went there last Friday. This week there will be too many questions. Have you seen him? Tall. Sunglasses and a topknot. Parents, boyfriends, everyone worries. And you’d just as soon avoid the entanglement.

Location?

Independent Bar.

Park the car. The stereo hisses into submission. The door is not far, then you are inside. Goth music. Black walls. Pop music. Red walls. The wristband—yellow tonight—rips your arm hair. First, a drink. Then skip upstairs for a perch above the dance floor. Above everything. You are above everyone.

Even now, the work remains a rumor. Some are afraid to go out, yes. But not here. Surely they’re safe here. If they travel with friends and don’t pick anybody up. They’re wrong.

“You need a drink,” he says suddenly. He saw you before you saw him. He approached you. Spoke.

“What did you say?”

“You need a drink.”

“Have one already,” you say. You jiggle a glass.

“You don’t get it. That’s cute, you know?” He stands. Bowlegged. Cocks his head to the side and grins. His teeth like a printer’s stamp pressed into his thick lower lip. “You need to buy me a drink.”

“Says who?”

“Ask what I want.” He’s Puerto Rican with a stainless steel lip ring, a tight shirt, and a concave abdomen.

“No,” you say. He won’t do for tonight.

But he’s persistent. He slides onto the neighboring stool and presses his thigh to yours. “You’re salty, papi, but I won’t hold it against you. Vodka cranberry, by the way.” He extends a hand. “I’m Alex.”

“What a coincidence,” you say. “Me, too.”

You shake hands, noting the wide, sinewy finger pads like a frog’s toes. A callus catches you below the thumb. Tonight he’s safe, but maybe some other night he’ll be appropriate. You disappear and a moment later fit his hand with a plastic cup from the bar.

“Drink,” you say, and he does, thanking you. You grin, satisfied with yourself. You spit in that drink.

“Wanna go home?” he asks.

“Things at home aren’t so good right now.”

“What’s that?”

“Nothing. Not tonight.”

Making your vague excuses—the bathroom, a friend waiting—you walk away. You’ve already wasted too much time with him.

The night progresses swiftly once you’ve refocused, and before long you spot your perfect boy dancing alone. He is translucence incarnate.

The rest comes simply. Your left hand meets his right shoulder. Your lips mesh. Can he taste you? No. You lack a distinct flavor; you are a perfect reflection of him even in this way.

“Matthew,” he says.

“No shit. Me, too,” you say. Your place, a string of things you say.

He agrees.

And then you’re both gone, slipped into the night like a knife into its chock.