Authors: Ray Garton
Now he tried to relax and get off at the computer as he watched two beautiful young women writhe and lick and suck each other. But he could feel the hot, fetid breath of guilt on his neck—
solitaryvice selfabuse chokingthechicken while Jesus watches
—even as thoughts of the beautiful Vanessa Peterman’s long, tall body and beautiful face rose up in his mind—
with flashes of Mommy’s puckered breasts and flabby greying folds
—and his back stiffened, and his head began to hurt, and suddenly his chest filled with an ache and he felt as if he were about to burst into tears, sob like a baby. He took a deep breath, swallowed hard, made the feeling pass. His erection wilted in his hand.
Maybe I should just go to bed,
Gotta get up for church tomorrow.
Church... which meant he would see Vanessa again.
With a heavy sigh, he pushed his chair away from the table, shut the computer down, and got ready for bed.
Karen and Gavin had a big breakfast in the Seascape Diner near the motel. As he paid the bill at the register in front, Gavin spoke with the hostess.
“We’ve never been here before and we’d like to see the sights,” he said. “Do you recommend anything in particular?”
She was a chubby young woman, blonde hair in a bun, and she gave him a perky, dimpled smile. “Weekends are busy around here during the summer. Just follow the tourists, you’ll probably see everything. Turn right out the door, walk up the block, turn right again, then walk a few blocks, and you’ll come to Old Town, across from Hallwell Park. There’s lotsa little shops, a few art galleries. And in the park you can see the big rock the town was named after.”
Gavin thanked her and they left the diner holding hands like the newlywed couple they were supposed to be. The morning was cool with a grey fog shrouding the sunlight, but that would burn off soon and the August heat would settle in. It was an attractive and clean old town. They followed the directions given by the hostess and ended up on a street with old-fashioned Victorian-style streetlamps spaced out along the edge of the red-brick sidewalk. The shops were open and busy with browsing tourists. Across the street, jutting up from the ground in the park, they could see the enormous rock after which the town had been named.
“What exactly do you suppose we’re looking for?” Karen asked.
“It seems pretty unlikely that we’ll find any, um... werewolves window-shopping on the street.” Gavin found it just as difficult to say the word “werewolf” out loud as it had been to say the word “vampire” during their first job for Burgess.
“You think they do all their shopping at night?” Karen said.
“They probably shop online.”
“Hm. I wonder what kinds of things werewolves would shop for.”
“Lots of grooming equipment, I’d think.”
“Yeah. They probably go through a lot of combs and brushes. I wonder if they use hair product.”
They were whistling past the graveyard, and they both knew it—making jokes about something they hoped never to encounter.
They wandered through an art gallery, an antique shop, then into a book store called Shelfspace. A fat grey-and-white cat slept in the window surrounded by books. They slowly made their way toward the back, passing a wall of Martin Burgess’s novels. Karen picked up a couple of mystery novels, then they made their way back to the front and she placed the books on the counter at the register along with her credit card.
The cashier was a slender, effeminate man in a short sleeve mauve shirt and black slacks, with a friendly manner and ready smile. He wore a badge on his shirt that read, “I’m CECIL—how can I help you?” As he began to ring up Karen’s purchase, he said, “Are you visiting Big Rock?”
“Yes,” Karen said, smiling. “Tourists.”
Sliding an arm around Karen’s waist, Gavin added, “We’re on our honeymoon.”
Cecil immediately forgot about the transaction and put down the book he’d just scanned. His mouth dropped open with a gasp and he clapped his hands together. “Congratu
derful! Where are you from?”
Karen said, “Los Angeles,” and Gavin said, “San Francisco,” at the same instant.
Cecil’s smile faltered a little as his eyes moved back and forth between them.
from Los Angeles and
from San Francisco,” Karen said.
Gavin took the opportunity to say, “We’re considering moving here.”
“To Big Rock?” the cashier said. His smile returned in force. “Well, we’d certainly love to have you.”
“Is it a good place to start a family?” Gavin said.
“Well, I’m not a parent, but we have a lot of families here. It’s a very family-oriented town.”
“What’s the crime rate like?” Gavin said.
“Crime?” He put a hand on his hip, cocked his head to one side and thought a moment. “It’s not bad. I’m not saying it’s
, but I think the town has done a good job of keeping things safe.”
“What about animals?” Karen said.
Cecil’s slender eyebrows, carefully plucked, rose as he turned to her. “Animals?”
She said, “I heard something about animal attacks. Know anything about that?”
The eyebrows slowly lowered and huddled together in a frown. He spoke more quietly and slowly than before. “Animal attacks? What kind of animal attacks?”
Karen shrugged. “I don’t know, actually. That’s why I’m asking.”
Gavin picked it up from there. “Someone at the motel said something about some animal attacks in the area, but they weren’t specific. Have you heard about that?”
Cecil’s long, skinny arms slowly folded together across his narrow chest as he chewed on the inside of his cheek. “Really? Animal attacks, huh? What motel?”
“We’re staying at the Beachcomber,” Karen said. “They said people have been hurt in recent months. Some badly. By animals. Is that true?”
Still frowning, Cecil nodded and said, “Well, I can’t say that I’ve heard about any animal attacks.” He dropped his arms at his sides, then continued ringing up Karen’s books. Before handing her credit card back, he took a quick look at it, one brow arched. “I’m pretty good at paying attention and I haven’t seen anything in the news, nothing in the papers.” He handed her the receipt to sign, then put the books in a small paper bag with handles. “If they were staying at the motel, they must not live around here. Maybe they were referring to another town, or something.” He slipped a receipt in the bag, handed it to Karen and smiled. “I hope you enjoy your honeymoon here.”
They thanked him, said goodbye, and headed out of the store.
Cecil snatched up a pen and a scrap of paper and quickly wrote down the name on the credit card: Karen Moffett.
“Ida,” he said, lifting a hand to beckon a coworker. “Could you handle the register for a second?”
“Sure,” Ida said. She came over and stepped behind the counter.
With the scrap of paper in one hand, Cecil removed a cell phone from his pocket as he went to the back of the store. He stepped into a small, cluttered office and closed the door, flipped the phone open, hit a button, and put it to his ear. He listened to the ringing and frowned down at the name on the paper. When a voice answered, he said quietly, “Hi, this is Cecil. Over at Shelfspace. Um, look... something just happened here and I thought I should tell somebody... “
Jeremiah stood before Sheriff Taggart at the top of the stairs that led down to the basement in the house that had belonged to car salesman Marvin Cooper.
said this?” Taggart said, cocking his head, right eye squinting.
“Cecil. He’s the manager at the book store in Old Town, Shelfspace. He says they just left the store.”
“And they were asking about animal attacks?” Taggart said, his voice dropping as he frowned.
Jeremiah nodded. “Honeymooners staying at the Beachcomber.”
“And he called... why, again?”
Jeremiah shrugged. “Something about their questions bothered him. He said they sounded more determined than curious, that they asked the questions too quickly.”
Taggart nodded slowly, thought a moment, his frown deepening. “I want you to look into this for me yourself, Jeremiah. Go to the Beachcomber, toss their room. If you want, I’ll call ahead and let them know you’re coming. See what you can find out about them. Then call me and fill me in.”
“Of course. Right away.” Jeremiah turned and walked away without hesitation.
Just outside the store, Gavin leaned toward Karen’s ear. “Did you notice that?”
“I did. He was
comfortable with our questions.” She took a cigarette from her purse and lit up.
“And he made a point of taking a closer look at your credit card. I’d bet good money he memorized your name. Maybe wrote it down after we left.”
“So he could pass it on to someone? Who?”
They walked aimlessly on the sidewalk as they talked. Gavin kept glancing at her cigarette.
“Can I have a drag of that?” he said.
She rolled her eyes, reached into her purse, and produced another cigarette and a lighter. “Here, smoke your own.”
Gavin lit up.
“You’re a lousy quitter,” she said, taking her lighter back.
“I’ve been called worse.”
After a moment, Karen said, “Maybe we’re just being... hyper vigilant.”
“Or maybe the topic of animal attacks makes people uncomfortable around here. Maybe we should bring it up with a few more people.”
They came to the corner of the block and stood on the edge of the sidewalk, waiting for the light to turn green.
“Let’s try that toy store across the street,” Karen said. “I love toy stores.”
“Okay. Then we should get out of here. This is the tourist trap section of town. We want to mingle with the residents, the people who know what’s going on around here. The best place for talky locals is a neighborhood bar. Maybe we can find one this afternoon.”
The light changed and they stepped off the curb and into the street.
A large white pickup truck with a camper shell sped noisily around the corner without slowing. As Karen clutched Gavin’s arm and pulled him backward with her, out of the truck’s way, she noticed the driver—a round-faced, bearded, middle-aged man with uncombed, uncut dark hair. He looked... distracted. Even a little afraid. He was not aiming at them, wasn’t even aware of them until the last moment. Other pedestrians around them backed up just as quickly. One of them shouted an obscenity and another said, “That
“It’s a small town,” Karen said, “but the drivers are no better than in the city.”
They crossed the street and headed for the toy store.
“Shit!” George Purdy shouted when he realized how close he’d come to taking out a group of pedestrians on the way around that last corner. His hands already had been trembling on the wheel, his heart fluttering a little in his chest, because he was so afraid of being recognized by someone, by the wrong person, by
—and then he’d rounded that corner and there they were, some people in the crosswalk, and he’d nearly screamed.
He hadn’t come into town in over two months. He hadn’t wanted to come today, but he’d needed supplies. Saturday seemed like a good day—there would be tourists everywhere, bustling activity and busy sidewalks. Daylight would give him a feeling of safety... even though he knew he was not safe. Not in Big Rock. Not anymore.
George let up on the gas pedal, took a few deep breaths, and forced himself to calm down. He’d gotten everything he needed and was ready to head back out of town and up to his cabin. He would feel better once he was out of Big Rock again. Passing the town limit would not erase his fear, but he would feel a little better.
He kept glancing at the speedometer to make sure he stayed at or a little below the limit. That had been his problem earlier—he’d gotten distracted by his fearful thoughts, had allowed his foot to get too heavy on the pedal, and had nearly hit those people in the intersection. He had to be more careful. If he were pulled over for a traffic violation—well, he’d be finished if that happened, and he knew it.
He braked for a stop sign at a four-way stop. To his left, a sheriff’s cruiser pulled up to the intersection and stopped a moment later. George looked at it peripherally, without turning his face to it. He recognized the deputy at the wheel in dark glasses—Phil Merrick, a widower in his thirties with a couple of kids. He remembered the torn body of Merrick’s wife in the morgue after her car accident a couple of years ago.
George froze up for a moment, paralyzed with fear. So much in his life had become uncertain since January, but George
the cops were dangerous, from the phony sheriff on down. That was a certainty.
The deputy turned his head slightly, aimed his dark glasses directly at George. He nodded once, gesturing for George to take his turn and drive through the intersection. George lifted his foot from the brake, pressed it to the gas pedal. The truck moved forward, but in his fear, George had no sense of his own speed. Was he going too fast? Too slow? He drove through the intersection, past the cruiser, eyes front, knuckles pale as he clutched the wheel. He felt himself relax as he put the intersection behind him. But he tensed again when he looked in the side mirror and saw the cruiser turning to follow him.