Small Town

Page 48



But there was the problem—they didn’t want anything from her, now that they’d pumped the last drop of their passion into her. All they really wanted was to shower and dress and go home to their wives, and hope to God the women didn’t pick tonight to feel passionate.

She’d planted the seed, though. She’d given them something to think about. And, when they came around next week, she’d propose some sort of game, some last-to-come contest, with the loser required to give the winner a blow job. And the loser would be a good sport about it, because being a good sport was even more important than being a hundred percent heterosexual, and he’d give in gracefully, and before they knew it they’d both be doing it, and loving it.

What fun.

S E X W A S W O N D E R F U L , A N D the more you did it and the more people you did it with, the better it got. It was readily available, it didn’t cost anything, and it was even good for you. She might have found it impossible to keep it in proportion, and it definitely helped that she had a third obsession.

John Blair Creighton.

She hadn’t realized at first that her fascination with the man who’d strangled her real estate agent, and who seemed to have been rewarded with a multimillion-dollar book contract, was anything more than a desire to go to bed with him. There was, certainly, a healthy (or not) sexual element to the obsession. He was a big, broad-shouldered guy, good-looking but not excessively handsome, and he had a sexual energy she’d have been aware of even if she hadn’t known who he was. She wanted to fuck him—and would, she was sure of it—but there was more to it than that. She was, well, yes, obsessed with the man, and she wasn’t sure why.

But it wasn’t just sexual desire that made her spend hours online, checking out the results of a Google search and download-ing everything she could find about him. And sent her to abe-books.com and alibris.com to order copies of all his out-of-print books. And led her to read the books, all of them, one right after the other, to read them cover to cover not just for the stories (which were involving) or the characters (the men convincing, the women a little less so) or the writing (excellent, simple and straightforward, always clear as glass, and with a ring like Water-ford). That made reading enjoyable, but it didn’t make it a necessity, something she felt honor-bound to do every night when she wasn’t in bed with somebody.

It couldn’t be because she’d met him. She’d met any number of writers, and the fact of acquaintance was no reason to read their books. She’d not only met Jay McGann, she’d fucked him walleyed, and she was in no great hurry to read anything he’d written.

It had to be because he’d been charged with murder, but that by itself could only take her to the first book. After that, she kept reading because of something in the work itself, and she’d already established it wasn’t the writing or the plot or the characters, so what was left?

The sense that came through of the author. Wasn’t that what made any work of art effective? You got little sidelong glimpses of a soul, and, if it resonated in a certain way with your own, you wanted more.

He was going to be important to her. She knew that much, and, when she thought about it, she had to admit that it was a little scary.

I mean, what if he actually did kill that woman?

twenty-one

WHAT IF HE’Ddone it?

He woke up Saturday morning, and it wasn’t until he was standing at the toilet, halfway through an endless pee, that he remembered the glimpse of blue in his sock drawer, the second look, the stunning reality of the turquoise rabbit. But had it happened? Or was it, please God and all the angels, a dream?

He brushed his teeth, showered, dried himself, then looked in the mirror and decided he ought to shave. Wielding the razor, he marveled at his own transparent foolishness. He’d shaved for the first time in years what, fifteen hours ago? And he wasn’t going anywhere today, wouldn’t be seeing anyone, and what was wrong with having a day’s stubble on his face?

Anything to put off opening the sock drawer.

He further delayed the moment of truth by making the coffee, and it wasn’t until he’d poured the first cup and had the first sip that he went over to the dresser and opened the drawer.

And of course the rabbit was there, in the same spot he’d left it the night before. It hadn’t hopped around, nor had it disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. He picked it up and held it in both hands and wondered what the hell he was going to do now.

How had they missed it? Those two clowns, Slaughter and Reade—except they weren’t clowns, they’d struck him as disturbingly competent, and not without some imagination. Still, they’d come to his apartment with one mission, to search for a missing turquoise rabbit formerly in the possession of one Marilyn Fairchild. They’d looked everywhere, certainly in the drawers of his dresser, and specifically in his sock drawer, because didn’t he remember one of them—Slaughter? Reade?—picking up and squeezing each rolled-up pair of socks in turn, just in case he’d thought to hide the thing that way.

But did he actually remember that? Or did he in fact remember Chris Noth squeezing socks on an A&E rerun of Law & Order, playing Mike Logan to Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe? (Or Paul Sorvino’s Phil Cerreta, or what was the name of the character George Dzundza played? Jesus, if he couldn’t remember that . . . ) The best day of his life, better than any night of sexual passion (and he’d had a few, and some of them, let’s not kid ourselves, were pretty great). Better than either wedding, even better (har har) than either divorce. Substantially better, if the truth be told, than the days his children were born.

Which reminded him. He had to call Karin and the kids, had to give them the good news. It would be in the papers, Roz had told him the Crown publicists would see to that, but they ought to hear it from him first. The kids would be excited, and Karin would be relieved, and not just because it meant they weren’t going to take her house away from her. She’d be relieved because she cared about him, even as he cared about her; that didn’t necessarily stop when a marriage ended. And, pragmatically, she’d be happy to know that the kids’ college educations were assured.

And by the way, he could add, I found the cutest little bunny in with my socks. And do you know what that means? Well, you remember that nice woman who lived on Charles Street? It means Daddy killed her.

B U T D I D I T ?

It meant he’d been to her apartment, but they knew it, and he knew it, he’d even admitted it. They could prove he’d been there, and the most the little blue rabbit could possibly do was confirm something he’d never troubled to deny.

Still, he’d exulted when they’d failed to find it, and he’d been devastated when it turned up after all. So what did it mean?

Well, it hadn’t gotten there by itself. If the cops had found it, he could have tried telling himself that they’d planted it themselves.

But that would have seemed unlikely, a real Dream Team stretch, and the obvious conclusion, the only plausible conclusion, was that he’d taken the creature from her apartment, stashed it with his socks when he got undressed, and forgot the whole thing by the time he awoke the next day.

It wasn’t like him to steal something. He weighed the rabbit in his palm, trying to imagine why he would have taken it. Out of spite? Out of sheer cussed alcoholic meanness?

Maybe he’d meant to ask her about it, where she got it or who’d carved it, some damn thing, and took it into the bedroom to show it to her. And then forgot about it until he got home, and figured he’d find some way to return it to her in the morning, and . . .

It seemed more likely that he would have picked it up on his way out the door. Hadn’t they argued? They’d had some kind of drunken sex, and followed it with some kind of drunken argument. But he couldn’t remember the details, and didn’t know what he could trust of what he did seem to remember.

Suppose the worst.

Suppose the argument got out of hand. Suppose she slapped him, or said something that got to him. Suppose he got his hands on her throat, just to shut her up, just to let her know she’d crossed a line, and suppose she taunted him, said he wouldn’t dare, called him an impotent cripple, and suppose his hands tightened.

He’d have been drunker than he realized. Drunk enough to do it, too drunk to remember it. Drunk enough, certainly, to take something with him as he left, for a souvenir of the occasion, say, or just because it caught his eye. Most pet shop sales, he’d read somewhere, were to men who got drunk and suddenly decided that they had to bring home a puppy. Could he have felt a similar need for a bunny rabbit?

He looked at the thing again. Much as he wished he’d never seen it, he had to concede it was not without appeal. And he’d admired Zuni carvings in the window of Common Ground and other local shops. He’d never felt the need to own one, but they were the sort of thing that, seized suddenly by a fit of drunken kleptomania, he might have reached for.

And, God help him, he’d have been capable of killing. How close had he come, really, to killing Penny all those years ago?

He’d never laid a hand on her, but in the story that sprang from the nonincident, and in the book he was writing now, the wife had died; the young husband had changed his mind, but too late.

In the novel, the man got away with murder. But he hadn’t really gotten away with anything, for all his life from that day on was shaped and colored by that simple act of murder. And, as the story unfolded on the page (or unscrolled upon the screen), it was becoming evident that the protagonist was still a murderer, that he still sought solutions to problems without regard to their moral implications, and that, before the book was done, he would kill again.

But that was just a book, wasn’t it? It was his attempt to construct out of his imagination a logical series of consequences to an event that had never taken place. It didn’t prove anything, did it?

Christ, suppose he killed her.

T H E R E W A S R E A L LY N O T H I N G like denial. It was a powerful tool; used wisely, it could get you through a lot of bad days.

He spent the weekend cloaked in it, acting as if nothing had changed since he’d seen an unwelcome bit of brightness in his sock drawer. It meant nothing, he told himself, and acted accordingly. He made some phone calls, answered his e-mail, and worked on his book. He’d thought it might be hard to slip back into the alternate universe of the novel, thought the blue rabbit might have understandably thrown him off stride, but all he had to do was sit down at the keyboard, and a few mouse clicks took him out of his world and into the far more comfortable world of Harry Brubaker. Comfortable for him, because he was there as an observer and reporter. It wasn’t all that comfortable for Harry, and it was going to get a lot worse.

While he worked, the rabbit sat on a shelf, next to the the-saurus, which he never used, and the dictionary, which he used less now that his word-processing program had a good spell-check feature. (Beside them stood Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, which he used far too frequently; he would grab it to check something, and the next thing he knew an hour had gone by.) Now and then he would glance over at the rabbit. It was ridiculous, even dangerous, to keep it—but he sort of liked having it there.