Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove Chapter 16~18

Sixteen Mavis The phone behind the bar rang and Mavis yanked it out of its cradle. â€Å"Mount Olympus, Goddess of Sex speaking,† she said, and there was a mechanical ratcheting noise as she cocked a hip while she listened. â€Å"No, I haven't seen him – like I would even tell you if he was here. Hell, woman, I have a sacred trust here – I can't rat out every husband who comes in for a snort after work. How would I know? Honey, you want to keep this kind of thing from happening? Two words: long, nasty blowjobs. Yeah, well, if you were doing them instead of counting words, then maybe you wouldn't lose your husband. Oh, all right, hold on.† Mavis held her receiver to breast and shouted, â€Å"Hey! Anyone seen Les from the hardware store?† A few heads shook and a fusillade of â€Å"nopes† fired through the bar. â€Å"Nope, he's not here. Yeah, if I see him, I'll be sure and tell him that there was a screeching harpy looking for him. Oh yeah, well, I've been done doggie-style by the Better Business Bureau and they liked it, so say hi for me.† Mavis slammed down the phone. She felt like the Tin Man left out in the rain. Her metal parts felt rusty and she was sure that her plastic parts were going to mush. Ten o'clock on a Saturday, live entertainment on the stage, and she still hadn't sold enough liquor to cover the cost of her Blues singer. Oh, the bar was full, but people were nursing their drinks, making them last, making goo-goo eyes at each other and slipping out, couple by couple, without dropping a sawbuck. What in the hell had come over this town? The Blues singer was supposed to drive them to drink, but the entire pop-ulation seemed to be absolutely giddy with love. They were talking instead of drinking. Wimps. Mavis spit into the bar sink in disgust and there was a pinging sound from a tiny spring that had dislodged somewhere inside of her. Wusses. Mavis threw back a shot of Bushmills and glared at the couples sitting at the bar, then glared at Catfish, who was finishing up a set on the stage, his National steel guitar whining as he sang about losing his soul at the crossroads. Catfish told the story of the great Robert Johnson, the haunting Bluesman who had met the devil at the crossroads and bargained his soul for super-natural ability, but was pursued throughout his life by a hellhound that had caught his scent at the gates of hell and finally took him home when a jealous husband slipped poison into Johnson's liquor. â€Å"Truth be,† Catfish said into the microphone, â€Å"I done stood at midnight at every crossroad in the Delta lookin' to sell my soul, but wasn't nobody buyin'. Now that there is the Blues. But I gots me my own brand of hellhound, surely I do.† â€Å"That's sweet, fish boy,† Mavis shouted from behind the bar. â€Å"Come over here, I gotta talk to you.† â€Å"‘Scuse me, folks, they's a call from hell right now,† Catfish said to the crowd with a grin. But no one was listening. He put his guitar in the stand and ambled over to Mavis. â€Å"You're not loud enough,† Mavis said. â€Å"Turn up your hearing aid, woman. I ain't got no pickup in that National. They's only so high you can go into a mike or she feed back.† â€Å"People are talking, not drinking. Play louder. And no love songs.† â€Å"I gots me a Fender Stratocaster and a Marshall amp in the car, but I don't like playin ‘lectric.† â€Å"Go get them. Plug in. Play loud. I don't need you if you don't sell liquor.† â€Å"This gonna be my last night anyway.† â€Å"Get the guitar,† Mavis said. Molly Molly slammed the truck into the Dumpster behind the Head of the Slug Saloon. Glass from the headlights tinkled to the tarmac and the fan raked across the radiator with a grating shriek. It had been a few years since Molly had done any driving, and Les had left out a few parts from the do-it-yourself brake kit he'd installed. Molly turned off the engine and set the parking brake, then wiped the steering wheel and shift knob with the sleeve of her sweatshirt to remove any fingerprints. She climbed out of the truck and tossed the keys into the mashed Dumpster. There was no music coming from the back door of the Slug, only the smell of stale beer and the low murmur of conversation. She scampered out of the alley and started the four-block walk home. A low fog drifted over Cypress Street and Molly was grateful for the cover. There were only a few lights on in the park's trailers, and she hurried past them to where her own windows flickered with the lonely blue of the unwatched television. She looked past her house to the space where Steve lay healing and noticed a figure out-lined in the fog. As she drew closer, she could see that it was not one person, but two, standing not twenty feet from the dragon trailer. Her heart sank. She expected the beams of police flashlights to swing through the fog any second, but the figures were just standing there. She crept around the edge of her trailer, pressed so close that she could feel the cold coming off the aluminum skin through her sweatshirt. A woman's voice cut the fog, â€Å"Lord, we have heeded your call and come unto you. Forgive us our casual attire, as our dry cleaner did close for the weekend and we are left sorely without outfits with matching accessories.† It was the school prayer ladies, Katie and Marge, although Molly wouldn't be able to tell which was which. They were wearing identical pink jogging suits with matching Nikes. As she watched, the two women moved closer to Steve, and Molly could see a rippling across the dragon trailer. â€Å"As our Lord Jesus did give His life for our sins, so we come unto Thee, O Lord, to giveth of ourselves.† The end of the dragon trailer lost its angles to curves, and Molly could see Steve's broad head extending, changing, the door going from a vertical rectangle to a wide horizontal maw. The women seemed unaffected by the change and continued to move slowly forward, silhouetted now by Steve's jaws, which were opening like a toothed cavern. Molly ran around her trailer and up the steps, reached in and grabbed her broadsword which was leaned against the wall just inside the door, and dashed back around the trailer and toward the Sea Beast. Marge and Katie were almost inside of Steve's open mouth. Molly could see his enormous tongue snaking out the side of his mouth, reaching behind the church ladies to drag them in. â€Å"No!† Molly leapt from a full run, slamming between Marge and Katie like a fullback leaping through blockers to the goal line, and smacked Steve on the nose with the flat of her sword. She landed in his mouth and rolled clear to the ground just as his jaws snapped shut behind her. She came up on one knee, holding the sword pointed at Steve's nose. â€Å"No!† she said. â€Å"Bad dragon.† Steve turned his head quizzically, as if wondering what she was so upset about. â€Å"Change back,† Molly said, raising the sword as if to whack his nose again. Steve's head and neck pulled back into the shape of a double-wide trailer. Molly looked back at the church ladies, who seemed very concerned with having been knocked into the mud in their pink jogging suits, but oblivious to the fact that they had almost been eaten. â€Å"Are you two okay?† â€Å"We felt the call,† one of them said, either Marge or Katie, while the other one nodded in agreement. â€Å"We had to come to give ourselves unto the Lord.† Their eyes were glazed over and they stared right past her to the trailer as they spoke. â€Å"You guys have to go home now. Aren't your husbands worried about you or something?† â€Å"We heard the call.† Molly helped them to their feet and pointed them away from Steve, who made a faint whining noise as she pushed the church ladies away toward the street. Molly stopped them at the edge of the street and spoke to them from behind. â€Å"Go home. Don't come back here. Okay?† â€Å"We wanted to bring the children to feel the spirit too, but it was so late, and we have church tomorrow.† Molly smacked the speaker across the butt with the flat of her sword, a good two-handed stroke that sent her stumbling into the street. â€Å"Go home!† Molly was winding up to smack the other one when she turned and held up her hand as if refusing a refill on coffee. â€Å"No thank you.† â€Å"Then you're going and you're not coming back, right?† The woman didn't seem sure. Molly turned her grip on the sword so the edge was poised to strike. â€Å"Right?† â€Å"Yes,† the woman said. Her friend nodded in agreement as she rubbed her bottom. â€Å"Now go,† Molly said. As the women walked away, she called after them, â€Å"And stop dressing alike. That's fucking weird.† She watched them until they disappeared into the fog, then went back to where Steve was waiting in trailer form. â€Å"Well?† She threw out her hip, frowned, and tapped her foot as if waiting for his explanation. His windows narrowed, ashamed. â€Å"They'll be back, you know. Then what?† He whimpered, the sound coming from deep inside, where the kitchen would be if he were really a trailer. â€Å"If you're still hungry, you have to let me know. I can help. We can find you something. Although there is only one hardware store in town. You're going to have to diversify your diet.† Suddenly an electric guitar screamed out of the fog, wailing like a tortured ghost of Chicago Blues. The dragon trailer became the dragon again, his white skin went black, then flashed brilliant streaks of red anger. The bandages Molly had spent all day applying shredded with the abrupt shape change. His gill trees hung with tatters of fiberglass fabric as if toilet-papered by mischievous boys. The Sea Beast threw back his head and roared, rattling the windows through the trailer park. Molly fell in the mud as she backed up, then rolled and came up on her feet with the broadsword poised to thrust into the Sea Beast's throat. â€Å"Steve, I think you need to take a timeout, young man.† Theo Such a short period of time to have so many new experiences. In just the last few days, he had coordinated his first major missing person search, including talking to worried parents and the milk carton company, whose people wanted to know if Theo could get a picture of Mikey Plotznik where he wasn't making a contorted, goofy face at the camera. (If they found a better picture, Mikey would end up with great exposure on the two percent or nonfat cartons, but if they had to go with what they had, he was going on the side of the buttermilk and would only be seen by old folks and people making ranch dressing.) Theo had also had to deal with his first major fire, the hallucination of giant animal tracks, and opening a real live murder investigation, all without the benefit of his lifelong chemical crutch. Not that he couldn't nurse at his favorite pipe, he'd just lost the desire to do so. Now he had to decide how to go about investigating Bess Leander's murder. Should he pull someone in for interrogation? Pull them in where? His cabin? He didn't have an office. Somehow he couldn't imagine holding an effective interrogation with the suspect in a beanbag chair under a hot lava lamp. â€Å"Talk, scumbag! Don't make me turn the black light on that Jimi Hendrix poster and light some incense. You don't want that.† And amid all the other activity, he felt a nagging compulsion to go back to the Fly Rod Trailer Court and talk to Molly Michon. Crazy thoughts. Finally he decided to drop by Joseph Leander's house, hoping he might catch the salesman off guard. As he pulled into the driveway, he noticed that weeds had grown up around the garden gnomes and there was a patina of dust on the Dutch hex sign over the front door. The garage door was open and Joseph's minivan was parked inside. Theo paused at the front door before knocking and made sure that his ponytail was tucked into his collar and his collar was straight. For some reason, he felt as if he should be wearing a gun. He had one, a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver, but it was on the top shelf of his closet, next to his bong collection. He rang the bell, then waited. A minute passed before Joseph Leander opened the door. He was wearing paint-spattered corduroys and an old cardigan sweater that looked like it had been pulled out of the trash a dozen times. Obviously not the sort of attire that Bess Leander would have allowed in her home. â€Å"Constable Crowe.† Leander was not smiling. â€Å"What can I do for you?† â€Å"If you have a minute, I'd like to talk to you. May I come in?† â€Å"I suppose,† Leander said. He stepped away from the door and Theo ducked in. â€Å"I just made some coffee. Would you like some?† â€Å"No thanks. I'm on duty.† Cops are supposed to say that, Theo thought. â€Å"It's coffee.† â€Å"Oh, right, sure. Milk and sugar please.† The living room had bare pine plank floors and rag rugs. An antique pew bench took the place of a sofa, two Shaker chairs and a galvanized milk can with a padded cushion on the top provided the other seating. Three antique butter churns stood in the corners of the room. But for a new thirty-six-inch Sony by the fireplace, it could have been the living room of a seventeenth-century family (a family with very high cholesterol from all that butter). Joseph Leander returned to the living room and handed Theo a hand-thrown stoneware mug. The coffee was the color of butterscotch and tasted of cinnamon. â€Å"Thanks,† Theo said. â€Å"New TV?† He nodded to the Sony. Leander sat across from Theo on the milk can. â€Å"Yes, I got it for the girls. PBS and so forth. Bess never approved of television.† â€Å"And so you killed her!† Leander sprayed a mouthful of coffee on the rug. â€Å"What?† Theo took a sip of his coffee while Leander stared at him, wide-eyed. Maybe he'd been a bit too abrupt. Fall back, regroup. â€Å"So did you get cable? Reception is horrible in Pine Cove without cable. It's the hills, I think.† Leander blinked furiously and did a triple-take on Theo. â€Å"What are you talking about?† â€Å"I saw the coroner's report on your wife, Joseph. She didn't die from hanging.† â€Å"You're insane. You were there.† Leander stood and took the mug out of Theo's hands. â€Å"I won't listen to this. You can go now, Constable.† Leander stepped back and waited. Theo stood. He wasn't very good at confrontation, he was a peace officer. This was too hard. He pushed himself. â€Å"Was it the affair with Betsy? Did Bess catch you?† Veins were beginning to show on Leander's bald pate. â€Å"I just started seeing Betsy. I loved my wife and I resent you doing this to her memory. You're not supposed to do this. You're not even a real cop. Now get out of my house.† â€Å"Your wife was a good woman. A little weird, but good.† Leander set the coffee mugs down on a butter churn, went to the front door, and pulled it open. â€Å"Go.† He waved Theo toward the door. â€Å"I'm going, Joseph. But I'll be back.† Theo stepped outside. Leander's face had gone completely red. â€Å"No, you won't.† â€Å"Oh, I think I will,† Theo said, feeling very much like a second grader in a playground argument. â€Å"Don't fuck with me, Crowe,† Leander spat. â€Å"You have no idea what you're doing.† He slammed the door in Theo's face. â€Å"Do too,† Theo said. Seventeen Molly Molly had always wondered about American women's fascination with bad boys. There seemed to be some sort of logic-defying attraction to the guy who rode a motorcycle and had a tattoo, a gun in the glove compart-ment, or a snifter of cocaine on the coffee table. In her acting days, she'd even been involved with a couple of them herself, but this was the first one who actually, well, ate people. Women always felt that they could reform a guy. How else could you explain the numerous proposals of marriage received by captured serial killers? That one was a bit too much even for Molly, and she took comfort in the fact that no matter how crazy she had gotten, she'd never been tempted to marry a guy who made a habit of strangling his dates. American mothers programmed their daughters to believe that they could make everything better. Why else was she leading a hundred-foot monster down a creek bed in broad daylight? Fortunately, the creek bed was lined in most places by a heavy growth of willow trees, and as Steve moved over the rocks, his great body changed color and texture to match his surroundings until he looked like nothing more than a trick of the light, like heat rising off blacktop. Molly made him stay under cover as they approached the Cypress Street bridge, then waited until there was no traffic and signaled him to go. Steve slithered under the bridge like a snake down its hole, his back knocking off great hunks of concrete, and he passed through. In less than an hour they were out of town, into the ranchland that ran along the coast to the north, and Molly led Steve up through the trees to the edge of a pasture. â€Å"There you go, big guy,† Molly said, pointing to a herd of Holsteins that were grazing a hundred yards away. â€Å"Breakfast.† Steve crouched at the edge of the forest like a cat ready to pounce. His tail twitched, splintering a cypress sapling in the process. Molly sat down beside him and cleaned mud from her sneakers with a stick as the cows slowly made their way toward them. â€Å"This is it?† she asked. â€Å"You just sit here and they come over to be eaten? A girl could lose respect for you as a hunter watching this, you know that?† Theo Theo found himself trying to figure out why, exactly, he was driving to Molly Michon's place, when his cell phone rang. Before he answered, he reminded himself not to sound stoned, when it occurred to him that he actually wasn't stoned, and that was even more frightening. â€Å"Crowe here,† he said. â€Å"Crowe, this is Nailsworth, down at County. Are you nuts?† Theo stalled while he tried to remember who Nailsworth was. â€Å"Is this a survey?† â€Å"What did you do with that data I gave you?† Nailsworth said. Theo suddenly remembered that Nailsworth was the Spider's real name. A second call was beeping on Theo's line. â€Å"Nothing. I mean, I conducted an interview. Can you hold? I've got another call.† â€Å"No, I can't hold. I know you've got another call. You didn't hear anything from me, do you hear? I gave you nothing, understand?† â€Å"‘Kay,† Theo said. The Spider hung up and Theo connected to the other call. â€Å"Crowe, are you fucking nuts!† â€Å"Is this a survey?† Theo said, pretty sure that it wasn't a survey, but also pretty sure that Sheriff Burton wouldn't be happy with a truthful answer to the question, which was: â€Å"Yes, I probably am nuts.† â€Å"I thought I told you to stay away from Leander. That case is closed and filed.† Theo thought for a second. It hadn't been five minutes since he'd left Joseph Leander's house. How could Burton know already? No one got through to the sheriff that quickly. â€Å"Some suspicious evidence popped up,† Theo said, trying to figure out how he was going to cover for the Spider if Burton pressed. â€Å"I just stopped by to see if there was anything to it.† â€Å"You fucking pothead. If I tell you to let something lie, you let it lie, do you understand me? I'm not talking about your job now, Crowe, I'm talking about life as you know it. I hear another word out of North County and you are going to be getting your dance card punched by every AIDs-ridden convict in Soledad. Leave Leander alone.† â€Å"But†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"Say ‘Yes, sir,' you bag of shit.† â€Å"Yes, sir, you bag of shit,† Theo said. â€Å"You are finished, Crowe, you – â€Å" â€Å"Sorry, Sheriff. Battery's going.† Theo disconnected and headed back to his cabin, shaking as he drove. Molly In Flesh Eaters of the Outland, Kendra was forced to watch while a new breed of mutants sprayed hapless villagers with a flesh-dissolving enzyme, then lapped up puddles of human protein with disgusting dubbed sucking sounds that the foley artists had obtained at Sea World, recording baby walruses being fed handfuls of shellfish. The special effects guys simulated the carnage with large quantities of rubber cement, paraffin body parts that conveniently melted under the Mexican desert sun, and transmission fluid instead of the usual Karo syrup fake blood. (The sugary stage blood tended to attract blowflies and the director didn't want to get notice from the ASPCA for abuse.) Overall, the effect was so real that Molly insisted that all of Kendra's reaction shots be done after the cleanup to avoid her gagging and going green on camera. Between the carrion scene and some salmonella tacos served up by the Nogales-based caterer, as well as repeated propositions by an Arab coproducer with ha litosis that made her eyes water, Molly was sick for three days. But none of it, even the fetid falafel breath, produced the nausea she was experiencing upon watching Steve yack up four fully masticated, partially digested Holsteins. Molly added the contents of her own stomach (three Pop Tarts and a Diet Coke) to the four pulverized piles of beefy goo that Steve had expelled onto the pasture. â€Å"Lactose intolerant?† She wiped her mouth on her sleeve and glared at the Sea Beast. â€Å"You have no problem gulping down a paperboy and the closet perv from the hardware store, but you can't eat dairy cows?† Steve rolled onto his back and tried to look apologetic – streaks of purple played across his flanks, purple being his embarrassment color. Viscous tears the size of softballs welled up in the corner of his giant cat's eyes. â€Å"So I suppose you're still hungry?† Steve rolled back onto his feet and the earth rumbled beneath him. â€Å"Maybe we can find you a horse or something,† Molly said. â€Å"Stay close to the tree line.† Using her broadsword as a walking stick, she led him over the hill. As they moved, his colors changed to match the surroundings, making it appear that Molly was being followed by a mirage. Theo For some reason, the words of Karl Marx kept running through Theo's mind as he dug the machete out of the tool shed behind his cabin. â€Å"Religion is the opiate of the masses.† It follows, then, that â€Å"opium is the religion of the addict,† Theo thought. Which is why he was feeling the gut-wrenching remorse of the excommunicated as he took the machete to the first of the thick, fibrous stems in his marijuana patch. The bushy green weeds fell like martyred saints with each swing of the machete, and his hands picked up a film of sticky resin as he threw each plant onto a pile in the corner of the yard. In five minutes his shirt was soaked with sweat and the pot patch looked like a miniature version of a clear-cut forest. Devastation. Stumps. He emptied a can of kerosene over the waste-high pile of cannabis, then pulled out his lighter and se the flame to a piece of paper. â€Å"Throw off the chains of your oppressors,† Marx had said. These plants, the habit that went with them, were Theo's chains: the boot that Sheriff John Burton had kept pressed to his neck these last eight years, the threat that kept him from acting freely, from doing the right thing, He threw the burning paper, and the flames of revolution whooshed over the pile. There was no elation, no rush of freedom as he backed away from the pyre. Instead of the triumph of revolution, he felt a sense of sickening loss, loneliness, and guilt: Judas at the base of the Cross. No wonder communism had failed. He went into the cabin, retrieved the box from the shelf in the closet, and was beating his bong collection into shrapnel with a ballpeen hammer when he heard automatic weapons fire coming from the ranch. Ignacio and Miguel Ignacio was lying in the shade just outside the metal shed, smoking a cigarette, while Miguel labored away inside, cooking the chemicals down into methamphetamine crystals. Beakers the size of basketballs boiled over electric burners, the fumes routed through glass tubes to a vent in the wall. Miguel was short and wiry, just thirty years old, but the lines in his face and the grim expression he always wore made him look fifty. Ignacio was only twenty, fat and full of machismo, taken with his own success and toughness, and convinced that he was on his way to being the new godfath-er of the Mexican Mafia. They had crossed the border together six months ago, smuggled in by a coyote to do exactly what they were doing. And what a sweet deal it had turned out to be. Because the lab was protected by the big sheriff, they were never raided, they never had to move on a moment's notice like the other labs in California, or bolt across the border until things cooled off. Only six months, and Miguel had sent home enough money for his wife to buy a ranch in Michoacn, and Ignacio was driving a flashy Dodge four-wheel drive and wearing five-hundred-dollar alligator-skin Tony Lama boots. All of this for only eight hours of work a day, for they were only one of three crews that kept the la b running twenty-four hours a day. And there was no danger of being stopped on the road while transporting drugs, because the big sheriff had a gringo in a little van come every few days to drop off supplies and take the drugs away. â€Å"Put out that cigarette, cabrone!† Miguel shouted. â€Å"Do you want to blow us up?† Ignacio scoffed and flicked his cigarette into the pasture. â€Å"You worry too much, Miguel.† Ignacio was tired of Miguel's whining. He missed his family, he worried about getting caught, he didn't know if the mix was right. When the older man wasn't working, he was brooding, and no amount of money or consoling seemed to satisfy him. Miguel appeared at the doorway and stood over Ignacio. â€Å"Do you feel that?† â€Å"What?† Ignacio reached for the AK-47 that was leaning against the shed. â€Å"What?† Miguel was staring across the pasture, but seemed to be seeing nothing. â€Å"I don't know.† â€Å"It is nothing. You worry too much.† Miguel started walking across the pasture toward the tree line. â€Å"I have to go over there. Watch my stove.† Ignacio stood up and hitched his silver-studded belt up under his belly. â€Å"I don't how to watch the stove. I'm the guard. You stay and watch the stove.† Miguel strode over the hill without looking back. Ignacio sat back down and pulled another cigarette from the pocket of his leather vest. â€Å"Loco,† he mumbled under his breath as he lit up. He smoked for several minutes, dreaming and scheming about a time when he would run the whole oper-ation, but by the time he finished the cigarette he was starting to worry about his partner. He stood to get a better look, but couldn't see anything beyond the top of the hill over which Miguel had disappeared. â€Å"Miguel?† he called. But there was no answer. He glanced inside the shed to see that everything was in order, and as far as he could tell, it was. Then he picked up his assault rifle and started across the pasture. Before he got three steps, he saw a white woman coming over the hill. She had the face and body of a hot senorita, but the wild gray-blonde hair of an old woman, and he wondered for the thousandth time what in the hell was wrong with American women. Were they all crazy? He lowered the assault rifle, but smiled as he did it, hoping to warn the woman off without making her suspicious. â€Å"You stop,† he said in English. â€Å"No trespass.† He heard the cell phone ringing back in the shed and glanced back for a second. The woman kept coming. â€Å"We met your friend,† Molly said. â€Å"Who is we?† Ignacio asked. His answer came over the hill behind the woman, first looking like two burned scrub oak trees, then the giant cat's eyes. â€Å"Holy Mary, Mother of God,† Ignacio said as he wrestled with the bolt on the assault rifle. Theo Eight years of living at the edge of the ranch and never once had Theo so much as taken a walk down the dirt road. He had been under orders not to. But now what? He'd seen the trucks going in and out over the years, occasionally heard men shouting, but somehow he'd managed to ignore it all, and there had never been gunfire. Going onto the ranch to investigate automatic weapons fire seemed an especially stupid way to exercise his newfound freedom, but not investigating, well, that said something about him he wasn't willing to face. Was he, in fact, a coward? The sound of a man screaming in the distance made the decision for him. It wasn't the sound of someone blowing off steam, it was a throat-stripping scream of pure terror. Theo kicked the shards of his bong collection off the front steps and went back to the closet to get his pistol. The Smith & Wesson was wrapped in an oily cloth on the top shelf of his closet next to a box of shells. He unwrapped it, snapped open the cylin-der, and dropped in six cartridges, fighting the shake that was moving from his hands to his entire body. He dumped another six shells into his shirt pocket and headed out to the Volvo. He started the Volvo, then grabbed the radio mike to call for some backup. A lot of good that would do. Response time from the Sheriff's Department could run as long as thirty minutes in Pine Cove, which was one of the reasons there was a town constable in the first place. And what would he say? He was still under orders not to go onto the ranch. He dropped the mike on the seat next to his gun, put the Volvo in gear, and was starting to back out when a Dodge minivan pulled in beside him. Joseph Leander waved and smiled at him from the driver's seat. Theo put the Volvo in park. Leander climbed out of his van and leaned into the passenger window and looked at the .357 lying on the seat. â€Å"I need to talk to you,† he said. â€Å"You weren't much for talking an hour ago.† â€Å"I am now.† â€Å"Later. I'm just going to check something out on the ranch.† â€Å"That's perfect,† Leander said, shoving a small automatic pistol through the window into Theo's face. â€Å"We'll go together.† Eighteen Dr. Val The bust of Hippocrates stared up at Val Riordan from the desk. â€Å"First, do no harm†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"Yeah, bite me,† said the psychiatrist, throwing her Versace scarf over the Greek's face. Val was having a bad day. The call from Constable Crowe, revealing that her treatment, or lack of it, had not caused Bess Leander's suicide, had thrown Val into a quandary. She'd zombied her way through her morning appointments, answering questions with questions, pretending to take notes, and not catching a word that anyone said to her. Five years ago there had been a flood of stories in the media about the dangers of Prozac and similar antidepressants, but those stories had been set off by sensational lawsuits against the drug companies, and the follow-ups, the fact that not one jury found antidepressants to cause destructive behavior, had been buried in the back pages. One powerful religious group (whose prophet was a hack science fiction writer and whose followers in-cluded masses of deluded movie stars and supermodels) had fielded a media attack against antidepressants, recommending instead that the de-pressed should just cheer up, buck up, and send in some gas money to keep the Mother Ship running. The various professional journals had re ported no studies that proved that antidepressants increased the incidence of suicidal or violent behavior. Val had read the religious propaganda (it had the endorsement of the rich and famous), but she hadn't read the professional journals. Yes, automatically treating her pat ients with antide-pressants had been wrong, but her attempt to atone by taking them all off the drugs was just as wrong. Now she had to deal with the fact that she might be hurting them. Val hit the speed dial button to the pharmacy. Winston Krauss answered, but his voice was muted, as if he had an incredibly bad cold. â€Å"Pine Cobe Drug and Gibt.† â€Å"Winston, you sound horrible.† â€Å"I hab on my mask and snorkle.† â€Å"Oh, Winston.† Val rubbed her eyes, causing her contacts to slide back in her head somewhere. â€Å"Not at the store.† â€Å"I'm in the back room.† His voice became clear on the last word of the sentence. â€Å"There, I took it off. I'm glad you called, I've been wanting to talk to you about killer whales.† â€Å"Pardon?† â€Å"I'm attracted to Orcas. I've been watching a Jacques Cousteau tape about them†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"Winston, can we cover this in session†¦?† â€Å"I'm worried. I was especially turned on by the male one. Does that make me a homosexual?† Jeez, it didn't worry him that he was a wannabe whale-humper, as long as he wasn't a gay wannabe whale-humper. As a psychiatrist, she'd tried to drop terms like â€Å"full-blown batshit† from her vocabulary, even in thought, yet with Winston, she couldn't keep the term from rising. Lately, Val felt as if she was running the batshit concession on the cave floor. It had to stop. â€Å"Winston, I'm putting everyone back on their SSRIs. Get rid of the placebos. I'm going to put everyone on Paxil to get their levels up as quickly as possible. Make sure to warn the ones who were on Prozac that they absolutely can't miss a day like they used to. I'll move those who need it later.† â€Å"You want me to take everyone off of the placebos? Do you know how much money we are making?† â€Å"Start today. I'm going to call my patients. I want you to give them credit for the unused placebos they still have.† â€Å"I won't do it. I almost have enough saved to spend a month at the Cetacean Research Center on Grand Bahama. You can't take that away from me.† â€Å"Winston, I won't compromise my patients' mental health so you can go on vacation and fuck Flipper.† â€Å"I said I won't do it. You were the one who started this. What about your patients' mental health then?† â€Å"I was wrong. I'm not going to put everyone back on antidepressants either, so you're going to lose some revenue there too. Some of them didn't need the drugs in the first place.† â€Å"No.† Val was shocked at the conviction in Winston's voice. His self-esteem problem no longer seemed an issue. What a crappy time for him to be making progress. â€Å"So you want the town to know about your little problem?† â€Å"You won't do that. You have more to lose than I do, Valerie. If you blow the whistle on me, then I'll tell the whole story to the papers. I'll get immunity and you'll go to jail.† â€Å"You bastard. I'll send my patients down to the Thrifty Mart in San Junipero. Then you won't even have the legitimate sales.† â€Å"No, you won't. Things are going to stay just the way they are, Dr. Val.† Winston hung up. Valerie Riordan stared at the receiver for a second be fore replacing it in its cradle. How? How in the hell had she given control of her life over to someone like Winston Krauss? More important, how was she going to get it back without going to jail? Theo Joseph Leander had the automatic stuck against Theo's ribs. He'd thrown Theo's gun into the backseat. Leander was wearing a tweed jacket and wool dress slacks and a film of sweat was forming on his forehead. The Volvo bounced over a rut in the dirt road and Theo felt the barrel of the automatic dig into his ribs. He was trying to remember what you were supposed to do in such a situation, but all he could remember from the cop shows that he'd watched was never to give up your gun. â€Å"Joseph, could you pull that gun out of my ribs, or put the safety on, or something? This is a pretty bumpy road. I'd hate to lose a lung because I didn't get new shocks.† That sounded sufficiently glib, he thought. Professionally calm. Now if he could just avoid wetting himself. â€Å"You couldn't leave it alone, could you? It would have just passed into history and no one would have noticed, but you had to dig things up.† â€Å"So you did kill her?† â€Å"Let's say I helped her make a decision that she'd been waffling about.† â€Å"She was the mother of your children.† â€Å"Right, and she treated me with about as much respect as a turkey baster.† â€Å"Wow, you lost me there, partner.† â€Å"They use them for artificial insemination, Crowe, you fucking stoner. One squirt and you throw them away.† â€Å"You got tired of being a turkey baster, so you hung your wife?† â€Å"Her herb garden killed her. Foxglove tea. Contains huge amount of digitalis. Stops the heart and it's almost undetectable unless you're looking for it. Ironic, isn't it? I would have never known about any of that crap if she hadn't blathered on about it constantly.† Theo was not at all happy that Leander was telling him this. It meant that he was going to have to make some sort of move to save himself or he was dead. Ram a tree maybe? He checked Leander's seat belt; it was buckled. What kind of criminal kidnaps someone and remembers to buckle his seat belt? Stall for now. â€Å"There were heel marks on the wall.† â€Å"Nice touches, I thought. I don't know, she may have still been alive when I hung her up there.† They were coming out of the forest that surrounded the ranch into an open pasture. Theo could see a metal shed next to a double-wide house trailer a couple of hundred yards ahead. A bright red Dodge truck was parked by the shed. â€Å"Hmmm,† Leander said. â€Å"They got a new trailer for the boys. Pull up to the shed and park.† Theo felt panic rise in his throat like acid and fought it down. Keep them talking and they won't shoot. Hadn't he heard that somewhere? â€Å"So you killed your wife for a big-screen TV and a tumble with Betsy? Divorce never occurred to you?† Leander laughed and Theo felt a chill run through his body. â€Å"You really are dense, aren't you, Crowe? See that shed up there? Well, I hauled twenty-eight million dollars' worth of methamphetamine out of that shed last year. Granted, I only get a piece of that, but it's a nice piece. I move it all. I'm a salesman, a family man, innocuous and unnoticeable. Who'd suspect me? Mr. Milquetoast.† â€Å"Your wife?† â€Å"Bess found out about it. Funny thing is, she was following me because she suspected an affair, but she never found out a thing about Betsy and me. She was going to turn me in. I had no choice.† Theo pulled up next to the shed and turned off the Volvo. â€Å"You have a choice now, Joseph. You don't have to do this.† â€Å"I'm not doing anything but going back to my life until there's enough money in my offshore accounts to take off. Don't get me wrong, Crowe. I didn't enjoy killing Bess. I'm not a killer. Hell, I've never even taken any drugs. This isn't crime, it's just a well-paid delivery route.† â€Å"So you're not going to shoot me?† Theo really, really wanted to believe that. â€Å"Not if you do what I tell you to do. Get out of the car. Leave the keys. Slide over and come out on my side.† Theo did as he was told and Leander kept the pistol trained on him the whole time. Where did Leander learn to do that? He'd hadn't had a television that long. Guy must have taken a mail-order course or something. â€Å"Miguel! Ignacio! Come out here!† Leander gestured with the pistol for Theo to move toward the shack. â€Å"Go inside.† Theo ducked to get through the door and immediately saw rack upon rack of lab glass, glass tubing, and plastic barrels of chemicals. A single metal chair sat in front of half a dozen electric burners that were filling the shed with a brutal heat. â€Å"Sit down,† Leander commanded. As Theo sat, he felt the handcuffs being yanked out of his back pocket. â€Å"Put your hands behind you.† Theo did as he was told and Leander threaded the handcuffs through two metal bars at the back of the chair and snapped them over Theo's wrists. â€Å"I've got to go find these guys,† Leander said. â€Å"Probably taking a siesta. What was Burton thinking when he put a house trailer down here? I'll be back in a second.† â€Å"Then what?† â€Å"Then Ignacio will shoot you, I'm guessing.† Molly This was a first: a guy that actually did what you asked him to do. When she heard a car coming down the ranch road, she asked Steve to make himself look like a trailer and he had done it. Sure, she had to make a little box diagram in the air with her hands, and he missed the first time, trying to make himself look like the tin shed next to him, a miserable failure that resulted in only his head changing and making him look like a dragon wearing an aluminum bag over his head, but after a few seconds he got it. What a guy. Okay, his tail, which had always hung down into the creek bed before, was showing, but maybe no one would notice. â€Å"What a guy,† she said, patting him on his air-conditioning unit. Or at least it was an air-conditioning unit now. No telling what body part it had been before he changed into a trailer. She's patting my unit, Steve thought. A low growl of pleasure rolled out of his front door. Molly ran and hid behind the shed, peeking out to watch the white Volvo pull up and stop. She almost stepped out to say hi to Theo, then saw the other man in the car holding a gun on him. She listened as the bald guy led Theo into the shed and made some threats. She wanted to jump out and say, â€Å"No, Ignacio won't be shooting anyone, Mr. Bald Guy. He's busy being digested right now,† but the guy did have a gun. How the hell did Theo let himself be taken prisoner by someone who looked like an assistant principal? When it was evident that the bald guy was coming out, she ran to the dragon trailer, caught the edge of the air-conditioning unit, and swung herself up onto the roof. The bald guy was going around to the front door. She ran over Steve's back and looked down over the edge. â€Å"Miguel! Ignacio!† the bald guy yelled. â€Å"Get out here!† He seemed uncertain about going into the trailer. â€Å"I saw them go in there,† Molly said. The bald guy stepped back, looking like he was going to go into a fit searching for where the voice had come from. â€Å"You're an assistant principal, aren't you?† Molly said. The bald guy finally spotted her and tried to hide the gun behind his back. â€Å"You're that crazy woman,† he said. â€Å"What are you doing here?† Molly scooched up to the edge of the dragon trailer. â€Å"‘Scuse me? Pardon me? Beg your pardon? I'm the what?† He ignored her question. â€Å"What are you doing here?† â€Å"Excuse me. Excuse me, excuse me,† she almost sang. â€Å"There is an as-yet-unapologized-for aspersion on the floor. You'll have to handle that before we move on.† â€Å"I'm not apologizing for anything. What are you doing here? Where are Ignacio and Miguel?† â€Å"You're not apologizing?† â€Å"No. Get down from there.† He showed her the gun. â€Å"‘Kay,† Molly said, patting Steve on the head/roof. â€Å"Steve, eat this impolite motherfucker.† She'd seen it before, but it was especially exciting to be sitting on Steve's head when he changed shape and his tongue leapt out below her to wrap around the assistant principal. After the initial slurp, the inevitable crunch (which had bothered her before) was sort of satisfying. She couldn't figure out if it was because the assistant principal had pointed a gun at her friend and called her a crazy woman, or if she was just getting used to it. â€Å"That was just swell,† she said. She ran across Steve's back, slid down to the top of the air-conditioning unit, then jumped to the ground. Steve growled and the angles of his trailer form melted into the curves and sinew of his dragon shape. He rolled over on his side and Molly watched as the scales on his belly parted and seven feet of dragon penis emerged as thick and stiff as a telephone pole. Luminescent colors flashed up the length of the organ. â€Å"Wow, that is impressive,† Molly said, taking a few steps backward. Steve sent her a message similar to the one he had sent to the fuel truck. It worked better on Molly. Her knees went wobbly, a warm tingling ran up her thighs, and she could feel the pulse rising in her temples. She looked into Steve's eyes (well, one of them anyway), stepped up to his face and gently touched him on the lips (or what would have been lips, if he'd had them), and let the sweetly acrid smell of his breath (a mix of Old Spice, manly Mexicans, and barfed cow) wash over her. â€Å"You know,† she said, â€Å"I never kissed a guy with assistant principal on his breath.†

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