Authors: Astrid Amara,Nicole Kimberling,Ginn Hale,Josh Lanyon
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Genre Fiction
“The mountain with the sweet tooth.”
Gunther chuckled. “Right. He was my first partner when I was a rookie. He loves these cookies with a profane passion.”
“I’ve never heard of them, but I’m not really a big bakery guy.”
“They’re actually sold at a steakhouse. It’s supposed to have an excellent bar as well. If you’d like to come along, I’ll buy you a drink for keeping me company.”
Keith hesitated. Although he’d have never admitted it to anyone, Gunther scared him. And not just because he had turned out to be a goblin. Keith wanted Gunther and that desire had led him to break two cardinal rules he’d long held sacred—never date anybody twice and never stay friends with a guy who dumps you. Keith didn’t want to be a chump all over again.
Apparently sensing his reluctance, Gunther said, “Or I could drop you off at the hotel if you’d like.”
“Hotel sounds good. I’m beat.” Keith tossed him the keys and headed to the passenger side.
As he pulled up to the curb in front of the hotel Gunther said, “I’ll be having a drink there anyway. You could come by if you change your mind.”
Keith gave a noncommittal nod and left.
Once he’d made it back to his hotel room and gotten through a dicey, but necessary, cold shower, he had time to regret his decision. He decided that, on closer reflection, he did want a drink.
Maybe, he thought, he could still catch Gunther at the steakhouse if he took a cab there.
Finding Bauer & Bullock’s webpage was easy. It was splashy with a lot of photo carousels showing beef searing on different apparatuses. The one hundred and forty-three seat restaurant was apparently the choice for the Portland business diner looking to impress a client. Keith had always hated joints like these, even before he’d become a vegetarian. White guys in business suits eating slabs of meat and steak frites while talking about money always curtailed his appetite.
But Gunther had gone there, so now Keith wanted to be there too. He decided to check out the bar menu.
Pleasantly, though somewhat predictably, the website informed him that the bar stocked over five hundred different whiskies. He picked up his phone and was just about to dial Gunther when the image on the carousel changed from a sizzling grill to a photograph of the owner.
The face was familiar but her name even more so: Cindy Bullock, wife of Trent Bullock, whom Keith had arrested for cannibalism less than a year before.
He decided to pass on the whisky after all.
Gunther arrived at Keith’s hotel room early the next day. The coffee maker had just started to gurgle and fill the hotel room with the scent of morning. Keith had neither dressed nor shaved and still wore the ragged old Misfits T-shirt and shorts he’d slept in.
“I just got an email from the lab.” Gunther set his laptop down on the small hotel desk. “The blood sample taken from the mop head at Lulu’s Flapjack Shack contained a mixture of human and bovine blood,” he said.
“So the killer is stretching one with the other?” Keith set about making coffee.
“Or there might have been two separate sources of blood,” Gunther said. “In addition to that, traces of methotrexate were present throughout the fibers, which would indicate that it has been combined with the blood mixture,” Gunther went on.
“Is that some sort of exotic new food additive?”
“It’s a prescription drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.”
“Weird.” Keith hunted through the cupboards for coffee cups. “I don’t know what to make of that at all.”
“Nor do I.”
“Did you get your cookies?”
“Last box of the night,” Gunther said.
“How did the restaurant seem?” Keith poured two cups of coffee and pulled the room’s remaining chair up alongside his partner.
“Busy. Crowded bar.” Gunther glanced up. “I sat down and had a superb whisky sour. When you failed to appear to keep me company I decided to while away the time google-stalking you on my phone.”
“Idle curiosity.” Gunther’s response came with such flirtatious ease that Keith initially mistook it for sarcasm.
“Did you stumble across anything good?”
“Your freshman yearbook photo. And a fine mullet you had then too. I particularly like the vaguely stoned look on your face and the ripped Whitesnake concert tee.” Gunther looked pointedly at Keith’s Misfits shirt. “Good to know you haven’t changed too much.”
Keith momentarily choked, embarrassed by the accuracy of the statement, but he recovered. “I was also wearing red parachute pants, but you can’t see those.”
“Nice.” Gunther smiled. “Do you still listen to metal?”
“Sometimes.” Keith took a sip of his coffee. Too harsh. He returned to the counter to swirl more sugar in.
“I always wanted to make some kind of rebellious adolescent statement on school photo day but never had the nerve,” Gunther said. “I was always afraid that if I was anything but absolutely harmless and normal I’d be found out, charged with breaking the Secrecy Act, and sent away.”
Keith was ashamed to realize that he’d never thought of what it must be like to grow up with that kind of isolation. Sure, he’d had the experience of hiding the fact that he was gay from people, but that was different. At any point he’d had the freedom to tell anyone which gender he preferred to sleep with. The Secrecy Act mandated silence on pain of deportation.
Lamely, Keith said, “That must have been rough.”
“It’s a unique way to experience childhood.” Gunther’s tone told him nothing.
“Don’t feel bad. My wearing a Whitesnake T-shirt was more an act of laziness than rebellion.”
“For you, maybe, but my mother dressed me in slacks and a tie every day of my freshman year,” Gunther said. “My classmates all thought I was a Mormon.”
“I imagine you learned to fight pretty early, dressed like that.”
“Some, but I also became adept at hiding other clothes in my backpack and changing in gas station bathrooms.” Gunther punched a couple of keys and entered the NIAD database. “I never really had to learn to fight so much as how not to kill people. Humans are fragile.”
Keith’s discomfort rose to an intolerable level. He wondered what offhanded remarks he had made about goblins. Had he called them butchers? Animals? Sick fucks? Any or all of those pejoratives was possible. He hadn’t been in a good way when he’d met Gunther before—angry and full of rancor.
He sat down on the bed and said, “I did look up the address of the bar you were at.”
“You did?” Gunther’s expression brightened briefly before dimming again. “But you didn’t come.”
“It’s not because of you,” Keith said quickly. “It’s because of the restaurant’s owner. Bring up Trent Bullock’s file in the NIAD base and you’ll see what I mean.”
Gunther complied and took a few minutes to read through the details of Keith’s recent bust.
“So although the meat that these people had been eating was goblin sourced, the diners were all human?” Gunther finally asked.
“It surprised us too, but then after we reviewed supper club, we realized that these same sort of people whose demand fueled the mermaid flesh trade were branching out into this chic cannibalism. They were foodies gone very wrong.”
“This is the case you were mentioning at the Flapjack Shack, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. Bauer & Bullock is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Cindy Bullock, now Trent’s ex-wife, since he went into Beaumont,” Keith said.
“According to the file, Beaumont was just a stopover on his trip to the goblin high king’s summer solstice table.”
“As the main course, yeah,” Keith said. “The wife was in Argentina researching sources for her new restaurant venture for the entire duration of my investigation. We had our South American counterparts monitor her movements while she was in their country, but her exploits were purely beef or beefcake related. We couldn’t nail her on anything.”
“Okay, so Bullock’s widow is here slinging steaks. And?” Gunther asked.
“And it occurred to me that there are a few things we don’t know about this case.”
“Such as everything?” Gunther gave a derisive snort.
“Such as: where does the butchering take place?”
Gunther shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m not sure anybody would risk the sentence for cannibalism if they actually knew the law and I’m fairly certain that Cindy Bullock is familiar with it.”
“I’d like to say that I agree with you, but when it comes to carnal pleasures like food, people will risk anything. Trust me on this. I want to question Cindy and take a look around the restaurant kitchen if I can. Even if she isn’t involved in these murders, I guarantee that she is still in contact with at least a few of her old cronies.” Keith drained his coffee and stood to get himself another cup.
“All right, but apart from the Dallas connection, do we have any reason to question the Bullock woman?”
“At least three ex-employees have called her a bloodsucker and a harpy,” Keith offered.
“Do we have any hard evidence of either of those?”
“No, and it’s pretty common for an ex-employee to call their boss a bloodsucker.”
“That is a very tenuous connection. I don’t think any judge, even one who was in the Irregular loop, would issue a search warrant based on accusations of harpydom,” Gunther remarked.
“I realize that, but I don’t see any reason not to see if we can shake something out of her,” Keith said. “We’ll hit her place on the way back from the vampires. Did the lab happen to know anything about what methotrexate is used for aside from arthritis?”
“It’s a very strong antimetabolite with potentially fatal side effects taken only by people in the advanced stages of rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis. It’s a human drug with no known magicial applications.” Gunther paused, musing before he continued, “Maybe the victim was taking it. We could have a look at missing persons to see if any of them had a prescription for methotrexate. At least that way we might be able to identify one of the three unknown deceased, if nothing else.”
“Can you do that in the car on the way to visit the vampires or would you like to stay back here?”
“My phone is mighty,” Gunther said. “And I wouldn’t want to send you off to visit vampires on your own.”
“I’m twice as likely to be eaten by a shark as a vampire.”
“While that is true, I’ll just tag along anyway. After all, it only takes running across the right hungry individual and suddenly you find yourself contemplating lunch from the perspective of a hamburger.”
“How do you know the vampire wouldn’t just gobble you up as well?”
“I have it on the highest authority that vampires hate the taste of trans-goblin body fluids.”
“Whose authority would that be?”
“Ex-boyfriend,” Gunther said simply.
Keith gaped, unable to mask his sense of revulsion. Like most teenagers, Keith had once found vampires sexy. And why not? Films portrayed them, generally, as hot young people in leather. The true form of the vampire was more Nosferatu, less model-turned-actor. To Keith they resembled humanoid hagfish. Because of the necessity of hiding their extra-human nature from the population, all registered vampires wore glamours to disguise their pale, pointy faces and hide their bulbous eyes and round, jawless mouths.
The idea that Gunther had managed to have sex with one both fascinated and revolted him. Finally, he said, “I’m not sure I’m liberal enough to have a romance like that.”
“You mean because of his true physical appearance?” Gunther asked.
, Keith thought,
and the fact that you qualify as a main course to him.
Aloud he said, “Did you ever see it?”
“Yes, of course. But not often. He was self-conscious about his appearance, but it would have been shallow of me to insist he always disguise himself.”
Shallow? Keith supposed so, but it might also be considered crucial by anyone who was made nervous by the prospect of sticking his dick into the mouth of a creature with more than a hundred and fifty razor-sharp teeth.
Gunther must have seen the skepticism on his face because he said, “I enjoy dating challenging men.”
“Why did you break up?”
“He insisted on polyamory,” Gunther answered. “That and he kept wanting me to call him ‘master’. Ultimately, I was not that interested in pursuing a vampire-style relationship. Too hierarchical for me.”
The three registered vampires living in the Willamette Valley ran a business called Azalea Point Creamery. They produced goat-milk artisan cheeses sourced from their own, humanely pastured herd. As Keith’s rented sedan moved up the long, tree-lined drive, Keith’s proximity alert buzzed. Blinking green nine.
Keith shut it off. Gunther glanced up from his phone.
“These individuals have no priors,” he stated.
“I know. Procedure says I have to interview them, though, so here we are.”
“What’s your feeling?”
“My gut says they don’t have anything to do with it, but rules is rules and I’ve got to interview them anyway since evidence of exsanguination has been found.” Keith pulled up alongside a long, corrugated tin goat shed. Three farm hands were at work there, forking hay and soiled wood chips out of the shed. The goats seemed to be out back in an enclosure. He wondered if the farmhands knew about their employers’ true nature. Most likely not.