Authors: Nicole Kimberling
Tags: #LGBT Suspense
Peter decided to pull over and have a chat. As he drew near he saw that the back of the truck held what looked like a bloodstained hospital gurney.
His reporter senses tingled, but observing the brightness and also the texture of the red spattering the gurney sheets, he realized he must be looking at a prop. Maybe for a house party or haunted house.
Perhaps even for Hell House. As he recalled, it had a couple of tableaus that included medical personnel and settings.
The girl caught sight of the
truck and went from lassitude to alertness.
As Peter pulled alongside her, she straightened as if preparing to flee.
“Hi,” he said. “Nice gurney.”
“It isn’t mine.” She buried her hands in the pockets of her vest. The man working the door at the casino took note of him and began speaking into a handheld radio.
The owner of the flame truck obviously had friends inside. Peter had no illusions as to how he would fare against even one casino doorman, let alone a doorman and his friend at the other end of the radio.
“How’s it going?”
In response, the girl narrowed her eyes at him until they became mere slits made of mascara and sparkly green eyeliner. She appeared to be concentrating very hard. Peter wondered if she was trying to put a curse on him. The door of the casino opened, and a young man emerged from the low gloomy interior.
From his first impression, Peter’s inclination was to dismiss him completely. To Peter this kid could have won any award inscribed with any combination of the words “World’s Biggest Pussy.” He was thin and short, and he wore a black concert T-shirt that was way too tight. His pants left nothing to Peter’s imagination, and not in a good way. The boy’s product-intensive hairstyle resembled that of an anime character who has been unexpectedly doused by a rogue wave made entirely of flavored vodka. He wore much black eyeliner.
In short, he was Goth. Peter would have dismissed him immediately as a threat except that Shawn clearly feared him enough to leave the city.
And having been shot at before, Peter did not like the way the kid kept his right hand in his jacket pocket as he approached.
Peter went on, as though he hadn’t seen the kid. “I just wanted to let you know I haven’t seen Shawn yet, but I’ll give him your note when I do.”
“Yeah, you do that,” the girl said. By then the eyeliner boy had come up beside her. He said nothing, just smiled at Peter in an arrogant, youthful way that could be the result of just turning twenty-one or having a .45 in his pocket.
In this case it was probably both.
Peter said, “Hi, I’m Peter Fontaine. I work for the
The boy smirked, pulled out his left hand, and made a waving motion at Peter, treating him as though he were a Railroad Avenue panhandler or a mariachi roving through a Mexican restaurant. He said, “Go back to Bellingham, paper boy.”
Peter didn’t know whether to be insulted or amused by this high-handed dismissal. He chose amusement, since being in a truck would only get him so far if the eyeliner boy had more friends inside the casino.
As he drove away, Peter saluted the boy, who returned the salute, but with only one finger.
When he returned home that evening, he related the story of his Maple Falls encounter to Nick and Evangeline. The three of them sat at the massive dining room table. An assortment of knives and gouging devices was spread before them as well as an assortment of doomed gourds. The setup for their assembly line was simple, having been honed over the years. Peter made the first cuts, removing the stem and top intact. Then, because he lacked artistic skills, it was his job to scoop the stringy, slimy, seed-laden netting from the inside of the pumpkins before sending them down the line to somebody who could do more than carve a couple of triangle eyes and a square-toothed smile.
When Nick had first started participating in Peter and Evangeline’s Halloween ritual, there had been a slight tension. An edge of competition between them emerged as lover and best friend figured out their relative positions to each other. That first year, the pumpkins had been masterpieces of gourd flesh. As the two of them grew more comfortable, the need to impress each other faded, but the pumpkins kept evolving so that now carving them and preparing for the party was a two-day affair. They’d carve jack-o-lanterns tonight, then take the
truck over to Fountain Rental in the morning to pick up tables and chairs and a punch fountain. Nick had splashed out and reserved two kerosene heaters for their patio, so that their guests could smoke without freezing to death.
This year Gigi joined them in their preparations, doing her part by walking on the table and knocking expensive and delicate carving tools down to be chipped and dented against the slate floor.
Peter was shoulder-deep in his ottoman-sized gourd when the front bell rang.
“That’s probably Tommy,” Evangeline said. “He said he might come by after work.”
Neither she nor Nick looked up from their work or made any move toward the door. Peter knew from experience that while both of them had the best intentions of actually getting the door once they came to a stopping point in their creative process, that stopping point could take up to fifteen minutes to reach, and by then the person on the doorstep would have given up and gone away.
He toweled off his arm and went to answer the door.
It was not Tommy.
Bradley De Kamp stood on the stair, resplendent in his Burberry overcoat and generalized sense of haughty disapproval. Peter didn’t wait for him to introduce himself, seizing the upper hand. He didn’t generally feel the need to instantly dominate another man, but Bradley had insulted Nick, and Peter’s defense came intuitively.
“You’re Bradley, right? I’m Peter Fontaine.” He held out his hand, which Bradley reluctantly shook. “Just to let you know, you almost ran over me the other night.”
Peter gave him a hard, bright smile. “No hard feelings, man. It’s hard to see in the fog sometimes. Just letting you know, there’s a lot of cyclists on this road.”
“Thank you for that information.” Bradley stood stiffly, without leaving the foyer, without removing his coat. “I’d like to speak with Nick Olson if he’s here.”
Nick saved him the trouble of yelling his name by sidling up beside him. He held a squirming Gigi in one palm.
“What’s up, Bradley?” Nick’s attempt at casual language was undone by his flat tone. Bradley didn’t seem to notice, though.
“I want to know what’s going on with the insurance payment.” He stood eye to eye with Nick, though with a slightly thinner frame. He had silver hair and a lot of it.
“You could have called,” Nick said. “I have company right now.”
“I did call. You didn’t answer,” Bradley said. “If you had, I could have been spared a drive.”
“Look, there isn’t a payment yet. The investigators haven’t even come up here.” Nick lost his hold on Gigi, and she bounded away to freedom.
“Whereabouts did you drive from? Do you live in Seattle?” Peter inquired.
“I fly in every couple of weeks on business,” Bradley said.
“Bradley works in the software industry. Borealis Microsystems.” Nick explained. Then to Bradley, “I told you that I would forward all communications that I had with them. There just hasn’t been any.”
“You should be keeping in better contact than you do. It’s a lot of money we’re talking about.” Bradley straightened imperiously and took on the air of a parent admonishing a child.
“I don’t know what I can do. I can’t make the insurance investigators work faster,” Nick said.
“Maybe it would save us all time and aggravation if you just cut a check for the amount owed to Troy and me now.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed in frustration. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Oh come on. Surely you get that much on print royalties alone.” Bradley brushed a raindrop off his sleeve.
Peter’s patience for this pompous jackass came to an abrupt end. “So I guess you must be hurting pretty badly for cash, huh, Bradley?”
At this comment, both Nick and Bradley turned to stare at him, but for different reasons. Nick seemed genuinely surprised, with just the beginning of amusement lighting his face. Bradley looked like he’d been given a cold jelly enema.
“I beg your pardon?” Bradley actually spluttered, an action that Peter had previously never seen anyone reduced to.
“Anybody who knows anything about insurance companies would know that Nick wouldn’t have the money yet. You don’t look like a guy who knows nothing of insurance, so you clearly knew when you were driving up here that Nick wouldn’t have the payment yet. You would have known it starting out. So why come up here?”
“To make sure—” Bradley began, but Peter cut him off.
“That was a rhetorical question. I already know why you came up here. To squeeze some money out of a guy who’s young enough to be your son.”
“I’m well aware of Mr. Olson’s age,” Bradley replied frostily.
“So why are you so strapped for cash? Software business in the toilet again, or did you just spend all your savings on hookers and blow?” Peter didn’t really think that Bradley was a hookers-and-blow sort of guy, but he’d learned through countless hostile and semihostile interviews that throwing out a fatuous accusation often reaped rewards.
“I don’t need cash. But as long as we’re all being offensively honest, I am looking out for my and my brother’s financial interests because I don’t trust Mr. Olson at all.” Bradley stated this coldly, as if Nick had forced Walter into homosexuality by trickery.
Peter regarded him narrowly. “I don’t buy it. You came here to pressure Nick into cutting you a check. You hate him, so you must need money bad.”
“It doesn’t matter why or if Bradley needs money. The fact is I don’t have it,” Nick said, finally relaxed enough to lean against the wall, hands in pockets, scruffy as a model in a cologne ad. “Bradley, I don’t know why you think that your father’s art is earning millions in print rights, but you are truly mistaken. I promise that I will send you what is due you just as soon as I have it. In the meantime, I’d like to get back to my guest.”
Nick gestured toward the door.
Bradley went without another word, too mortified or too angered by Peter’s provocations to speak. At first, Peter thought Nick angry with him as well, but as the door closed, he pulled Peter to him and pressed a whiskery kiss into Peter’s cheek.
“You’re really something,” he whispered. “You just go for the jugular right away, every time.”
“I can’t help it,” Peter said. “Mom says I was born without tact. Are you mad?”
Nick laughed softly. “Not at all. Just amazed, that’s all.”
From the kitchen came Evangeline’s voice calling, “If you guys are done with your big family scene out there, I was wondering if you could come back and tell me all the details. I couldn’t hear anything from here.”
The morning of the big party, Peter woke early, too excited to sleep. As usual, Nick had already risen and doubtless was somewhere in the house creating some sort of art. That or lifting weights. On the way to the bathroom, Peter peeked into the guest room, hoping to see the spectacle of reps and curls, but Nick had already been and gone elsewhere.
Peter found his lover sitting cross-legged on the silk rug in the living room, a long, scroll-like piece of Japanese mulberry paper unrolled in front of him. Nick held a sumi brush in one hand and a bottle of ink in the other, painting wide expressive strokes on the porous paper. Gigi slept beside him on the rug.
After kissing Nick good morning, Peter went to engage the shower. While he enjoyed the exquisite four-head spray, a curious thought occurred: what about Bradley? What if he had stolen the sculpture himself? He plainly needed money. He wondered if Borealis Microsystems kept a log of which of their salespeople had been in the Pacific Northwest on, say, the Fourth of July. Invigorated, he lunged from the shower and, wrapped only in a towel, first visited the Internet and then made a few calls.
Afterward, puffed up with pride, he went to crow his triumph to Nick.
“Borealis Microsystems says that Bradley De Kamp hasn’t worked for them since June.”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all.” As usual, Nick didn’t look up from his work. The brush strokes began to assemble themselves into the shape of a cat. “He’s always been better at selling himself than actual products.”
“I don’t follow.”
“He keeps getting jobs but also keeps getting let go after a few years.” Nick dipped his brush in the ink again. “The business world is rough for those of mediocre ability.”
“So I’m thinking that we have another option in terms of people who could have benefited from theft of the statue.”
Nick let out a snort of laughter. “I cannot imagine Bradley figuring out a way to move something that heavy. You saw his problem-solving skills in action last night.”
“I suppose so, but what if he and Stephano worked together?”
“Not possible. They’d be working at cross-purposes. Either the university can get the money or Bradley can, but not both.” Nick drew a long, sinuous stroke to represent Gigi’s tail. As if sensing the complete drawing, she woke, stretched, and immediately went for the sumi brush. Nick removed the brush, saving it from a mauling. In her zeal, Gigi had darted onto the paper, walked across the wet drawing before coming to rest at the upper end of the paper, printing a trail of black cat paws behind her. Nick cocked his head slightly. “Nice background there, cat.”
“Come on, admit it. You like her,” Peter said.
“I like her best when she’s asleep.”
“So we’re going to keep her?” Peter asked.
For the first time, Nick met his gaze. “Only if you admit that I was right.”
“Wanting to keep this cat from the very beginning.”
Peter hung his head. “Okay, I wanted to keep the cat from the very beginning.”
Nick reached out to stroke his bare shoulders. “Me too. Now get dressed. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
* * *