Authors: Nicole Kimberling
Tags: #LGBT Suspense
Before Bellingham was amalgamated into
City of Subdued Excitement, it was made up of four separate towns: Fairhaven, Whatcom, Fountain, and Bellingham. During the time of its founding, Bellingham was the least of the four start-up towns but was lucky enough to have the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad Depot. Once the canneries and sawmills of Fairhaven imploded, the railroad-endowed municipality of Bellingham subsumed the others. The names of the original nineteenth-century towns linger as designated neighborhoods with distinct characters. The original fountain that gave the neighborhood its name has long since gone, but Fountain Rental remains the place to acquire not only everything one needs to throw an average wedding or wake, but also a truck to move it all with.
Peter had no need of any of the trucks available, though some of the big dualies appealed strongly to the four-year-old within him. He and Nick loaded the beat-up
truck with tables and chairs and kerosene heaters. Last he carefully nestled a three-tier punch fountain between two stacks of chairs while Nick signed the rental agreement. They made good time, arriving back at their house just as Evangeline pulled up to help them unload and start decorating.
“Can you give me a hand with this heater?” she asked. “I don’t want to scuff the truck.”
“This truck couldn’t get any more scuffed than it already is,” Peter said. “You’ll see when we get the stuff out of it. It’s in serious need of gator liner.”
As they progressed Nick knelt to run his fingers along a deep gouge in the truck bed. “I see what you mean about being scuffed.” He suddenly lifted his fingers and peered at them.
“Did you cut yourself?” Peter moved to check, as did Evangeline. Nick’s skin was unbroken. A splinter of rock stuck to his index finger.
“This is Italian yellow granite.” Nick bent to search the crevices and crenulations of the truck bed, finding several small shards of the same stone. A couple of them were as big as a fingernail. “This is the same stone
is made from. Look at how polished this side is. These are fragments from the sculpture, and this—”
“So…” Peter drew the word out as he came up to speed with Nick’s discovery. “
was in this truck at some point?”
“Not just at some point. Recently. And I don’t even know what to make of this.” Nick held up a small wad of black fur. It looked like a tuft of hair from a black cat.
“Is that from Gigi?” Peter asked. Nick shook his head.
“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” Evangeline said. “The only people who drive this truck are you and Shawn.”
“And Doug,” Nick added.
“Doug’s hernia doesn’t even let him lift twenty pounds,” Peter said. “But what the hell would Shawn want with a statue? More than that, why is there a chunk of hair from our cat in here as well?”
“Maybe we should ask him.” Nick pocketed the shards of stone. Both he and Peter turned their gaze on Evangeline, who immediately threw up her hands in protest.
“I swear I don’t know anything about this.”
“But you know where Shawn is, don’t you?” Peter leaned in close.
“Of course I do. He’s my cousin.”
“Would you please, please tell us where to find him?” Nick said. “I don’t want to get him in trouble. I just want to talk to him.”
“He’ll probably be coming to the party tonight. Why not just wait for him?” Evangeline crossed her arms, pulling her sweater closer against her bountiful breasts.
“Because I’d like answers to my questions now,” Peter replied. “And because if he had anything to do with hurting my cat, I don’t
him at my party.”
Evangeline flushed, immediately ready to defend her kin. “What makes you think he’d harm any animal?”
“You were the one who said he was hanging out with Satanists and taking the wrong drugs,” Peter reminded her.
“That doesn’t make him a cat skinner. And a couple of marble chips doesn’t prove anything!”
“I didn’t say they did,” Nick cut in smoothly. “I just want to find out what he knows. You saw how Bradley was acting last night. This whole thing has gone on too long, and if I can find
and avoid giving that dick a cent, I’d really like to. Please help me.”
* * *
Nick pulled into the dirt lot behind Boundary Bay Brewery just past noon. Because of the adjacent farmer’s market, the lot was crammed with both cars and people. Peter scanned the bunched-up lines of vehicles for beige Westphalias. There were three.
Typical hippie town.
He searched for signs of a tall Asian guy with dreads.
Again, not as easy to single out as one might have imagined. Then, behind a clot of cross-looking Russian women, he spied the dreads he sought. They were covered by a large cotton head wrap printed with multicolored shooting stars.
Nick applied the brake, and the car came to rest with a crunch of gravel. Peter launched himself out of the car, heading toward his quarry.
Shawn looked about to flee in the face of Peter’s purposeful approach. Then, as if overcome with a sudden wave of calm, he seemed to steady himself and relax.
“Hey man, how have you been?” he asked mildly. “I didn’t think I’d see you until tonight.”
“I’ve been good. Listen, I need to talk to you.”
Shawn glanced over Peter’s shoulder and said, “Hey Nick.”
Nick also seemed taken aback by Shawn’s lack of guilty response. He brought himself up alongside Peter and said, “Shawn.”
“So what did you need?” He leaned against the side of his van.
“I found a chunk of Gigi’s fur on the back of the
delivery truck,” Peter said. “I was just wondering if you had any idea what happened to her.”
“You found…” Shawn’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “What did you find?”
“A chunk of fur that I strongly theorize came off the back of my cat.” Peter crossed his arms, glad Nick was there in case Shawn freaked out and attacked him. From inside the beige Westphalia came a strange, high-pitched sound.
Shawn glanced over his shoulder, forehead suddenly sweaty, fingers flexing and straightening. “I don’t know anything about your cat.”
“Do you know anything about granite fragments?” Nick pulled his hand out of his pocket to display the almost powderlike granite that had been left there.
Shawn’s eyes went wide, but he said, “No, I don’t know about gravel either.”
“This isn’t gravel. It’s a few fragments of Italian yellow granite, which is what the missing De Kamp statue happens to be made of.”
Again, the animal sound emitted from the back of Shawn’s vehicle. Sick fear churned through Peter’s gut. He couldn’t imagine Shawn ever hurting an animal, but then he hadn’t predicted him having to leave town for three days to avoid his dealer either. He could picture in his mind’s eye another little kitten back there, bleeding, waiting until someone had time to finish it off. He could stop it, he realized. He had that chance now.
“What the fuck do you have in your van?” Peter demanded.
“It’s nothing.” Shawn stepped in front of the door.
“It’s not nothing. There’s an animal in there.” Peter reached for the door handle, and Shawn shoved him away. Nick moved in immediately, pinning Shawn against the Westphalia’s side panels. Peter jerked the sliding door open, expecting to see a little ball of fur come shooting out. Instead, sitting quite calmly on the floor of the van, was a black goat. She—he could tell it was a she from the udder—chewed a mouthful of some haylike substance and regarded him with calm detachment. Then, catching sight of Shawn, she bleated. Unless Peter was mistaken, this was the very same goat he’d seen in the back of a black truck one week before.
“Let me go, you fucker!” Shawn struggled against Nick.
“Why do you have a
in your van?” Nick’s emphasis on the word
clearly indicated that he, too, had expected to find an injured feline.
The goat stood, took a couple of steps toward Shawn, then stuffed her muzzle into the deep pocket of his North Face jacket. From this she pulled a small sandwich bag of Fritos, which she started munching, plastic and all.
“Don’t let her eat the bag!” Shawn struggled again, and this time Nick let him go to disengage the goat from her plastic treat.
“Shawn,” Peter said. “I’m going to have to ask you again why you have this goat in your van.”
“I saved her,” Shawn said. “And then she saved me. I’ve been clean for a week now. It’s because of her.”
Watching Shawn stare lovingly at the goat, a horrifying thought crept into Peter’s mind. Clearly the same thought had formed in Nick’s mind because he said, in the dry, unflappable tone he used when he expected to be repulsed, “How did she do that?”
“She made me understand that I’m a hero.” Shawn nodded, both to the goat and to himself. He flipped his uneven, waxy dreads out of his face. “All right, I’ll cop to moving that penis statue, but I didn’t steal anything except this goat.”
“You moved the statue, but you did not steal it?” Peter raised an eyebrow. “I think you have to explain.”
Shawn didn’t begin immediately. Instead he stared fixedly at the goat for a few seconds as though she were psychically coaching him. Then he nodded at her and took a deep breath. “I was in the
office alone a couple of Fridays back answering the phones because Doug wanted to go check out the grand opening of that new vegan raw-foods place on Cornwall Avenue.”
“He knows the owner somehow,” Peter explained to Nick.
“She’s his cousin’s daughter,” Shawn said. “Anyway I was there answering the phone, and somebody called about the statue. She said that she’d seen it at a house party near Whatcom Falls Park. I asked her if she knew who owned the house, and she said she didn’t remember, but that it was there in the shed.”
“So how did you find the house it was at?” Peter asked.
“Oh, I recognized the caller’s voice. Plus there’s caller ID in the
office, so I knew for sure it was Jessica Mehrton on the phone. She’s going out with my friend Billy, so I called Billy and asked him where the house party had been and he told me. Ironically, I’d been there too, but I didn’t go in the shed.” Shawn paused briefly to scratch the goat. “Plus I don’t remember being there at all. I was really wasted.”
“Just out of curiosity, why did your friends go into the shed?” Peter flipped out his notebook.
“Jessica saw Billy flirting with this other chick and got mad so he pulled her into the shed to talk about it so they didn’t make a big scene,” Shawn said. “Anyway, I thought it would be cool if I just went and got it instead of calling the cops.”
“Why wouldn’t you do that?”
“I had just been to a party there. I didn’t want to be a bad guest. Plus there was no reason to involve the police since I could just claim I couldn’t reveal my source for where I found it. You know, because we’re a newspaper. Plus I’m an ordained minister through the Church of the Divine Man.”
“I don’t think the cops would have bought either of those reasons for withholding information, but I can see how you were thinking. Okay, go on,” Peter said.
“So I went out to the house and found the statue right where Jessica had said it would be. I put it into the truck—”
“How?” Nick broke in.
“Well, I’ve been reading a lot about pyramids and how the ancient Egyptians built them—”
“You brought a bunch of Jewish slaves along to help you?” Peter could not help this interjection.
Shawn gave him a withering look. “No, I used my long board, some two-by-fours, and the winch on the truck.”
“That would explain how the statue got chipped,” Nick remarked.
“And how the bed of the truck got so scuffed,” Peter added.
The goat, apparently growing bored with their story, stood, stepped out of the Westphalia, and ambled toward the a dirt embankment, which had been planted with ornamental native shrubbery. She sampled this and, finding it pleasing, started eating in earnest.
“So,” Peter prompted, “how did you not manage to bring the statue back to the
office after removing it from this unnamed person’s garage?”
“As I was driving back here, I got a call from a guy I do some business with. He wanted to see me, so I went over there, and he started hassling me about some money that I guess I owed him.”
“Does this guy, by any chance, worship Satan?”
Shawn looked up in surprise. “You know him too?”
Peter gave a noncommittal shrug.
Shawn continued, “Then you know what a prick this guy is. He said he’d forget about the money if I consecrated my life to Satan, sucked his dick, and drank the blood of a black cat. He had a cage of cats. Some of them had collars. They were people’s pets. And there were skins.”
“Did you do it?” Nick’s eyes flicked to the goat, then back to Shawn.
Affronted horror played across Shawn’s face. “
, man, I believe in the light. Plus I’m a vegetarian. I told him I’d pay him back in three days. I figured that since he was worshipping Satan, I might be able to trade them this big cock statue for an extra weekend.” Shawn shrugged. “I told him that he could probably sell it on the black market if he wanted to, but I think he just liked it cause it looked like a dick. I gave them the statue to keep as collateral. Once I got the money and paid them off, I went back to get the penis, and it was sitting in the middle of this pentagram made of red stones. The cats weren’t there anymore, but there was this sad little goat tethered to the sculpture, and I just kind of…I snapped I guess. It was like I was her…or something. I started crying, and then I just took her. Oh, Melinda…”
Peter was about to ask who Melinda was when he realized that there was only one female in the parking lot with them. Shawn sat half-inside the van and gazed at the goat. Seeming to sense Shawn’s distress, she returned to the van, climbed back inside, and sat primly alongside him. She didn’t seem to mind it when he draped his arm across her neck. In fact, she didn’t seem to mind anything about her current living situation, which Peter found remarkably copasetic behavior for a goat.