Authors: Nicole Kimberling
Tags: #LGBT Suspense
When Nick pulled alongside the curb to let him out, Peter plopped a thankful peck on Nick’s cheek and speedily quit the vehicle.
Once in the office, he ambled casually up to Doug and inquired offhandedly where Shawn was going with the truck.
The look of alarm on his editor’s face concretized Peter’s previous theory. The man let out a string of complex and partially unintelligible profanity that brought what little work was being done in the
office to a halt. The other reporters stared, Peter imagined in awe at both Doug’s exquisite and complex swearing abilities and Peter’s apparent ability to withstand being the direct object of such cursing while maintaining a slightly bored countenance.
Doug yanked open his top desk drawer, took out a skinny bag of weed and a pack of rolling papers, and started rolling a joint.
“If he doesn’t bring it back by tomorrow, I’m calling the cops.”
Peter said, “Why don’t I try texting Shawn?”
“If you get hold of him, tell him to bring my fucking truck back.” Doug fired up his Zippo and sucked so hard on his rollie that he killed nearly half in the first drag. He took the joint from his lips, paused thoughtfully, then exhaled slowly. As he did so he sank back into his chair, as if deflating.
Peter, who’d been thumbing his phone’s keypad, transcribing Doug’s message, glanced back up. “Anything else?”
“Yeah.” Doug picked up the nearly empty baggie and rolled it between his fingers. “Tell him I’m just about dry.”
Ah, there’s the rub
. Any reasonable employer would have fired Shawn already, but the fact was that according to Doug, he still scored the kindest weed in town.
And really, if Peter were to be honest with himself, he’d enjoyed his editor’s largesse on numerous occasions. Not because of his numerous avenues for obtaining marijuana, but for his ability to win journalism awards that made the
editor walk so much taller than his rival at the town’s other free weekly paper the
Bellingham Independent Tribune.
Not that he was in danger of winning an award today. He would have to have written an actual article for that. As if able to read Peter’s mind, Doug said, “So what do you have on the cat skinner? Anything?”
Peter flipped out his notebook. “I talked to the police yesterday. They said—”
Doug held up a silencing hand. “Write it up and send it over. How many words do you think you can get out of it?”
“Maybe a couple hundred if I stretch it. Why?”
“Hell House bounced its check, so I won’t be running an ad this week. I’ve got a three-by-three-inch space to fill.” He tossed the remainder of his joint out the window, opened his desk drawer again, and pulled out a bag full of miniature candy bars in festive black and orange wrappers.
Peter said, “I’m glad. Advertising antigay religious haunted house experiences was not something I’d like to be part of.”
“I know, I know, but I advertise whoever pays me. It’s part of my journalistic commitment. Candy?”
Peter took a chocolate bar, unhappy the
was losing money, but still glad the ad had been yanked. But every October some church or other out in the county set one up. It saddened him because as a kid he’d loved going to haunted houses and psyching himself out amid the fake cobwebs, plastic masks, and strobe lights. He hated to think that this sacred venue, too, had become a battleground in the culture wars.
“I guess it’s hard to overcome my objection to indoctrinating a bunch of young kids with the idea that all homosexuals will die of AIDS,” Peter remarked. “Advertising it seems wrong to me.”
“Have you ever gone to one?”
Peter shook his head no. “Have you?”
“I went last year just to see what it was about,” Doug replied. “Substandard tableaus with bad moralistic scripts that a bunch of teenagers giggled their way through. The crowd was interesting, though. About a third of the people were true believers who really bought it. Then there was this contingent of hipster kids who were going ironically, just to be able to say they had gone and hated it, and then there was this group of people who were just curious.”
“Still doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.”
Doug shrugged and turned away murmuring, “Could’ve used that money, though.”
The ride home was cold and damp. Slivers of light mist hung over the winding, narrow road, obscuring the tops of the cedars flanking either side of Chuckanut Drive. The asphalt glistened with a sheen of treacherous moisture. Outside of town an eerie quiet settled in.
As Peter made his way through the fog, he thought more on the idea of Hell House and of Shawn’s dealer. The thing about Satanists is that they do not just spring forth from the earth out of nowhere. Satanists believed, by definition, in the Christian universe and therefore might easily be former or lapsed Christians. It then followed that if anyone were likely to know the identity of Whatcom County’s Satanists—either genuine or simply poseurs trying to be provocative—it would probably be the regular churchgoers.
Peter deliberately stopped himself from following this line of reasoning. He already had two articles he needed to write, and neither of them included Satanists.
He pedaled onward into the gloaming, thoughts growing darker and returning, in spite of all his efforts not to allow it, to Satanists. He didn’t believe in Satan, but what if a person did? What might they do? Would they, for example, skin a cat?
Peter’s musings, like the evening, grew so dark and the shadows so deep that the supernatural seemed easily within grasp. Peter would not have been surprised to see the Headless Horseman rounding the next bend.
Instead, he saw a red Miata turning out of his own driveway. The car darted onto the open road directly into his path. Peter squeezed his brakes, skidded, and ditched his bike on the roadside, just a yard away from the Miata’s back wheel. The driver of the car, a gray-haired man in late middle age, never even looked at him as he sped away.
Peter picked himself up, knocked the damp pine needles off his pants, and checked his bike for damage. Nothing seemed broken. He walked his bike the rest of the way up the hill.
The moment he stepped through the door into the foyer, he called, “Do you know who was driving that Miata?”
“His name is Bradley. He was here about the insurance claim for
,” Nick responded from the living room.
Like the rest of the house, the living room was a tall, airy space comprised of birch and stone. The vast expanse of an eight-by-twelve-foot De Kamp abstract dominated the far wall. Two-story windows lined the wall facing out toward the ocean. Peter had always thought this must give passing boats a nice view of their Spartan interior design.
Not that anyone on a boat could see through this fog.
Being an artist, De Kamp had understood scale. So since there was a huge painting and expansive windows, there was also a leather couch large enough to be a minor geological structure and a silk rug large enough to conceal at least two Cleopatras.
Other, smaller pieces—sculptures and small paintings—lined the birch ledge that was the room’s only shelf.
Nick lounged on the gigantic sofa with a sketchbook in his lap and an open bottle of ink on the side table next to him. Also beside Nick on the sofa was a chewed and mangled shoelace of mysterious origin.
“He almost ran over me.”
Nick looked up, gave him the once-over. “Are you okay?”
“I had to ditch, but the shoulder was soft.” Peter shrugged. “You’d think a guy in the insurance industry would try harder to avoid hitting cyclists.”
Nick went back to sketching. “Speaking of insurance, you might want to know that the cat clawed a hole in the corner of a three-hundred-thousand-dollar painting.”
Peter looked down at the kitten, who sat innocently licking her front paw as if she could taste the money on it. Then she blinked and mewed and stalked over toward Nick with a bouncy lack of guile that triggered Peter’s protective instincts. He swooped her up in his hand just as she was extending her needlelike claws toward Nick’s pant leg.
Nick gave him a brief glance. “How long did the vet say it would be until she’s recovered?”
“She said that it would depend on the next couple of days.” Peter shoved her inside his jacket, as if removing her from Nick’s field of vision could make him forget about both the damaged painting and the kitten’s existence.
Nick drew in a deep breath and laid his dip pen aside. “I guess we should take some steps to make sure she doesn’t destroy anything else. Want to give me a hand?”
“With what?” Deep inside his jacket, the kitten let out a tiny, frustrated mew and then sank her claws into his right nipple, causing him to crumple forward and lose his grip.
The kitten was away, boinging down across the great room clearly intent on some new misadventure. Peter rubbed his chest and tried to ignore the fact that Nick was smirking at him.
“I’m going to move this painting to the studio. And I should probably get most of this other stuff out of here too.” Nick indicated the objects that lined the shallow shelves with a wave. “I think the more fragile pieces will be safer there.”
He helped Nick maneuver De Kamp’s canvas into the guest room, understanding for the first time why De Kamp had designed the house with ten-foot doorways. Then they collected the small fortune of art objects, paintings, and miniatures and secured them as well. When they returned to the great room, Peter saw that the kitten had found a way to get up on the ledge and was stalking along, attacking the dust bunnies that had been accumulating behind one of the larger paintings.
Nick regarded her levelly and remarked, “I somehow knew she’d find a way up there.”
Peter repatriated the kitten to the floor. “What about this carpet?”
“I figure since she’s already thrown up on it a couple of times, it might as well stay where it is,” Nick said.
“She—” Peter stopped himself from arguing their tiny houseguest’s case, opting for a simpler approach. “I’m really sorry.”
Nick shrugged, his expression softening for the first time. “It’s all right. She’s just a baby. And it’s just a carpet. I also decided to give her an interim name so that I’d have something to yell apart from
“What are you calling her?” Peter picked up the shoelace and attempted to engage the kitten’s attention.
“That’s not a very ladylike name.”
“She’s not a very ladylike cat. And anyway, I call her Gigi for short.”
“Why are you calling her Gorilla Girl? ’Cause she’s a little monkey?” Peter pulled the shoelace again, but not fast enough. Gigi had it in her maw and was viciously assaulting it with all four limbs.
“It’s guerilla, like the Central American freedom fighter. The Guerilla Girls are a feminist pop-artist collective. This is one of their T-shirts.” Nick straightened so that Peter could read his shirt.
In large letters it read DO WOMEN HAVE TO BE NAKED TO GET INTO THE MET. MUSEUM?
It featured a recumbent woman wearing a gorilla mask, and noted, in smaller text, that although less than 5 percent of the artists in the Modern Art section were women, they accounted for 85 percent of the nudes.
While Peter didn’t know if the kitten had any strong political feelings, feminist or otherwise, he couldn’t deny that Gigi was a pretty cute name.
Plus it had the advantage of giving him an excuse to perform his Maurice Chevalier impression. He picked up the kitten and began to croon, “Thank heaven for lee-ttle girls, for lee-ttle girls get bigger every day.”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “That’s the gayest, most old-man move I’ve ever seen you make.”
“Singing a song from
“I’d have gone for Lady Gaga, but this cat doesn’t really have that much of a ‘Poker Face.’” Peter let the squirming creature go, and she moved immediately to reengage her mortal enemy, the shoelace.
Nick nodded. “She knows what she wants and goes to any length to get it. Kind of like you.”
Peter couldn’t tell if that had been meant to be a compliment. Then again, he also couldn’t tell if Nick liked the cat, so he said, “Thanks… I think.”
“It’s not like I haven’t benefited from the frank and open single-mindedness of your pursuit.”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“It’s true. I would have never had the guts to walk up to you and ask you out cold,” Nick said. “I would have overthought it and choked.”
“Was it because you were covered in blood when we met? Because I would have overlooked that, given the circumstances.”
“You think I’m being condescending, but you don’t know. I’ve never asked a guy out on a date.”
Peter blinked. How was that even possible? Granted, Nick was handsome enough that he’d probably had customers lined up all his life, but still…
“You haven’t, even once, asked anyone out ever?” Peter could not conceal the incredulity in his voice.
“That’s not what I said. I’ve never asked a guy out. I’ve asked out plenty of girls just fine. It’s easy to ask someone out when you don’t really care if they say no.” As if too embarrassed to look him in the eye, Nick grabbed the shoelace and tugged gently at it. Gigi went into a sharklike killing frenzy.
Peter considered Nick’s words. “I guess I forget that you weren’t out for a long time.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Not till you met Walter, I guess.”
“Not even then.” Nick caught Gigi just as she was about to fall off the sofa, plunking her back on her tiny feet. She hopped down and went to stare fixedly at a spot on the carpet.
“I don’t get it. I thought everybody knew about you two, and that’s why you were involved in the investigation into Walter’s death.” It was a subject Peter hated to bring up but couldn’t make himself give up on either.
De Kamp had been nearly forty years Nick’s senior. After he had developed pancreatic cancer, Nick had allegedly assisted in his suicide, an act of compassion that had made him, for a time, a suspect in a murder investigation.