Exclusive excerpt from the new Dan Dylan book, Chameleon
Eddie Vinson’s childhood had been punctuated by a string of dysfunctional moments that eventually shaped his personality, and not for the better.
Eddie was a deceptively skinny kid, but sinewy and strong, and he garnered a grudging respect from peers who’d learned the hard way not to mess with him. He was soft-spoken, although he had a deep voice that could be mesmerizing and command attention, if and when he chose. He looked pretty much like any other kid in his neighborhood. His eyes were a granite gray; he was fair-skinned with freckles splattered across his cheeks, which made him look young and innocent. Eddie had massive hands, however, and his grasp of a football was the stuff of neighborhood legends. He moved effortlessly, gracefully, a natural athlete; yet he knew how ordinary he appeared to others, and, early on, he learned to use his nondescript features to advantage.
Eddie thought of himself as superior, and he honed his natural abilities. He liked to confound his “friends” by creating subtle changes in his appearance or demeanor. He could change his behavior at will, barely noticeable differences that, nevertheless, unnerved his peers, his teachers, and even his parents, and gave him his leverage. It could be as simple as parting his hair on the left instead of the right, or rolling his Levis up one turn too many, exposing his ankles as though he’d shot up over night. He might walk with a subtle limp and then abandon it mid-stride.
His social style emerged from such subterfuge. Eddie called it, “Keep ‘em guessing.” He thought of “them” as fools, living for the next breath, the next meal; keeping to the familiar; avoiding danger, and fearing risk. He, on the other hand, relished risk and courted danger. He embraced change, found it thrilling. By age ten, Eddie had begun to think of himself as a chameleon. Controlling others by means of manipulation and deception became his credo, his modus operandi. How else could he escape the insanity his parents had forced upon him?
At eleven, Eddie moved with his parents to yet another trailer park, this one on the outskirts of the southwest Chicago industrial park where his father worked, as did most of the neighborhood residents. The slice of sky over their huddled tin-can community was often weird, polluted orange or gaseous lime. The air stunk; morning, noon and night, its cloying odor, like burnt fish, smothered the unfortunates who lived there, and Eddie was, sadly, one of them.
When not in school, Eddie was usually alone, bored out of his skull, while his parents worked. He hated the pinched, crammed-in feeling he got from the sardine can in which they lived, and he resented like hell that his mother and father had relegated him to a do-nothing life under the inversion of toxic air, seemingly without a thought for his wants or needs.
Looming above and beyond the trailer tops were gigantic white petroleum tanks, seemingly benign marshmallow look-alikes, which dotted the fields for as far as Eddie could see. Marshmallows, ha, with near-nuclear capabilities. He imagined them blowing. Better still, he envisioned himself blowing them!
Eddie wondered how his busy ant-like neighbors would feel if the petroleum bombs exploded. He conjured up hundreds, maybe thousands, of silently screaming, writhing souls drenched in liquid fire, flesh charring, curling and peeling like so much barbecued pork that was always served at the pathetic company-sponsored family picnics. From bosses to janitors, they would fry while he watched from the safety of a well-chosen hiding place.