by Martha Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org
"1414 Bentley. That's it," Lil said, checking the address against the rolodex card in her hand. "The big place with the gables and the rose bushes."
"And the white picket fence," Marc said sourly from the back seat. "Where do they think they are, Kansas? You know how much water it must take to keep a lawn that size green?"
Arthur pulled into the shadow of a blooming jacaranda on the other side of the street, and the three of them sat looking at the house for a moment. Lil voiced what they were all thinking. "It does seem a little unlikely, doesn't it?"
Marc leaned forward between the seats. "But you said you'd come across this sort of thing before, Lil. What did you call it? Compulsive reenactment? Morgan's been in that office haunted by all those lobotomized ghosts for so long that he finally snapped. Now he's going around with an icepick. Who knows? Maybe he really did lobotomize those two secretaries who died."
"No." Arthur was still looking at Teague's pretty white house. "I don't think that's possible. It may have been an easy operation for a doctor to perform, but Teague? He would have killed them. At the very least they would have ended up like you." He brushed Marc's scarred cheek.
"Well, maybe." Marc jerked irritably away from Arthur's touch. "But he's still a dangerous bastard. I think I should come with you."
Lil opened the car door on her side. "We've already been through this. It's going to be difficult enough to get in to speak to Morgan. Having you with us right now would just complicate things."
Marc leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. "You and Arthur are always trying to keep me away from the good stuff."
"Exactly," Arthur agreed. "It's our mission in life."
"But I'm the only one who can tell you if he's the old guy who followed me in Westwood."
Arthur said more seriously, "I know. That's the other reason we want you out of sight for right now."
Marc gave in with bad grace. "Oh all right. Have it your way. Don't expect me to feel sorry for you if he icepicks you both in the living room, though."
"Your concern is touching," Lil told him.
She and Arthur crossed the street and went up a front walk lined with rose trees and clumps of pink and red impatiens. A beautiful bent willow rocking chair was on the front porch. Clearly no one was ever expected to sit in it. Arthur pressed the intercom button by the door and a moment later a thickly-accented voice came back, "Yes, please?"
"My name is Arthur Drake. I'm here to see Mr. Teague."
There was a very long pause. Then a different voice said sharply, "Who are you?"
"Arthur Drake and my associate Lillian Arceneaux. Morgan hired us several weeks ago to investigate unusual phenomena connected with his office."
There was another pause. Then, "I thought my husband dispensed with your services some time ago. What are you doing here?"
"We've come across critical information in regard to that investigation. We were unable to contact Morgan at his office."
"How did you get this address?"
Arthur lied calmly. "Morgan gave it to us when he hired us. Can he speak to us, please? We wouldn't be bothering him at home if it weren't extremely important. It could well be an issue of his personal safety."
There was another long silence, and then the locks on the front door turned. The door was opened by a plump young woman with olive skin and beautiful brown eyes. She wore a starched maid's uniform with black trim and white stockings.
"This way, please." She led them half a dozen steps through the foyer and into the living room. Lil shook her head at Arthur behind the maid's back.
"Mrs. Teague," the maid said, and left them.
Morgan Teague's wife sat on the sofa under the window, trying with some success to look as though she'd been there all morning. With the light behind her it was hard to see her face, but she was blonde, very thin and very well dressed. She did not stand up when Arthur and Lil entered the room. Without any preamble she asked them, "What do you mean about Morgan's personal safety?"
Neither Arthur or Lil sat down. Arthur said, "Do you know why your husband hired us?"
Mrs. Teague nodded.
"We have reason to believe Morgan was correct in fearing that his office could be a site of dangerous paranormal influences. It's possible that he himself may be suffering from his exposure to those influences. Would it be possible for us to speak to him directly about this?"
"You can talk to me," Mrs. Teague said flatly.
"All right." Arthur and Lil exchanged a glance, and Arthur sat down on the edge of an ottoman upholstered in a rose print. The window behind Mrs. Teague was dressed with matching damask fabric, looped over a heavy iron curtain rod with a filigreed arrowhead at one end.
Arthur told her about the lobotomies Teller Waite had performed in her husband's some forty years ago, and explained the significance of Marty's symptoms in the last weeks before her death. Then he told her what had happened to him the night he and Lil spent in the office. Finally he described the parade of eyeless faces on the videotapes.
"I brought one of those tapes with us. I know that much of this must sound quite fantastic to you. If you'd like to see the videotape, it might make it easier to understand."
Mrs. Teague's face remained a pale blank. "I don't believe that will be necessary."
"Everything that we've discovered so far seems to indicate that those rooms pose a real danger to anyone who spends any amount of time in them. So you can understand our concern for Morgan. He's been in that office for nine years, hasn't he?"
Mrs. Teague gave a slight shake of her head. She seemed to be smiling, but Arthur noticed for the first time that her hands were clenched tightly in her lap. She said, "I suppose you are sincere in this. But while Morgan may be unfortunately susceptible to this kind of New Age mysticism, I can assure you that I am not. And now if you'll excuse me, I need to drive my son to his soccer game."
Lil said abruptly, "How long has it been since your husband went in to work?"
Mrs. Teague stood up. "I don't believe that's any of your affair." She raised her voice. "Lupé! Please see my guests to the door."
The dark young woman in the starched uniform returned. Arthur took out his card and stepped forward to hand it to Mrs. Teague. "Please feel free to contact me at any time. We do believe your husband may be in danger." Arthur paused. "He may even pose a danger to others."
She refused to take the card. Arthur let it drop on the coffee table. He was close enough to her to see for the first time that she was much older than he had supposed, and that her eyes were red.
Arthur and Lil allowed the maid to lead them to the front door. On the porch, Lil turned suddenly and took her hand, saying something to her in Spanish.
Lupé shook her head. Lil spoke more rapidly and wouldn't release her hand. Finally Lupé, with a worried, wide-eyed glance over her shoulder, answered her quietly and then shut the door between them.
On the way back to the car, Arthur said, "You asked her if Morgan was in the house?"
Arthur couldn't decipher the expression on Lil's face. "She says he hasn't been home in three days."
Marc was unimpressed by their efforts.
"That's it? The very least you could have done, Lil, was steal a picture of him for me to identify. I mean, we already knew he was wandering around like a lunatic."
"Actually, we didn't know for sure that anything was wrong," Arthur said. "Now we do. He hasn't been to his office or home in days, and I'm sure his wife had been crying."
"No," Lil said ruthlessly, "We don't really have any evidence that it has anything to do with the influence of that office. Maybe he's just on a binge or having a midlife crisis--"
Marc shook his head in exasperation. "You two don't believe in anything, do you? If Satan himself appeared in a puff of smoke and brimstone and started waving a pitchfork in your faces, you'd still find a way to explain him away."
"We'd certainly try," Lil agreed.
Arthur said patiently, "Marc, when someone thinks he's had a paranormal experience, ninety-nine times out of a hundred it's possible to find a perfectly ordinary explanation. We don't resort to the supernatural until we've been able to discount every mundane possibility first."
"But we're not talking about someone seeing the spirit of his dearly-departed Aunt Agatha. This is a flesh and blood crazy man stalking us with an icepick. I think it's time for you and Lil to give your professional skepticism a rest and start watching your backs."
At dusk they drove to Teague's office building again. Arthur parked in the public garage on Fourth Street, and they walked the rest of the way to the building. It felt strange retracing his and Lil's steps with Marc now in tow. The double glass doors were all locked. Arthur knocked on one of the panels. After a few moments, Brownley the night watchman came to the door. He stood looking at them through the glass, but showed no inclination to open up for them.
"Can we talk to you for a minute?" Arthur wasn't sure if Brownley could hear him through the door, but the blank look on his face was less than encouraging. Arthur was debating shouting the request to him when Brownley finally unlocked the door. He swung it open just enough to block the entrance with his body.
"What do you want?"
"I'm Arthur Drake. We spoke last month about Morgan Teague's office. Do you remember?"
"I remember. What do you want?"
"Some disturbing things have happened since we were here last. I wondered if we could talk to you about them."
Arthur glanced over his shoulder at Marc and smiled to forestall any comment from him. "This is Marc James. He's assisting us with the investigation."
The corner of Brownley's mouth twitched up in an ugly smile. "I see. Well, Teague's secretary is dead. She killed herself with sleeping pills."
"I know. That's part of the reason we want to talk to you."
"I doubt there's anything I can tell you."
"I understand that Morgan hasn't been in to the office in some time. I was wondering if you had noticed any changes in his behavior in recent weeks."
"He didn't turn a hair when Marty died. But then, you wouldn't expect simple human decency from a man like that."
"I don't understand," Arthur said. "What kind of man?"
"Pure id. He doesn't have the moral sense of a cat."
Arthur hardly knew how to answer that. At last Lil said with equal bluntness, "We think Teague may be dangerous in his current state of mind. He hasn't been to work, he hasn't been home. Do you have any idea where he might be?"
"I'm supposed to be working," Brownley said. "I don't have time to stand around gossiping about the tenants." He pulled the glass door shut. Arthur watched him walk across the waxed linoleum floor to his desk.
"Great technique, Lil," Marc said admiringly. "That's the second door you've had slammed in your face today."
The rest of the week was quiet. Arthur left messages at Morgan's office every day that were never returned. He and Lil finished categorizing the hours of ravaged faces on the Teague videotapes. Lil returned to work on Thursday and, over Peter's objections, began planning to move back into her apartment.
Marc spent two days in the university medical library trying to trace the further career of Teller Waite after his eighteen months in Teague's suite, and Friday night he brought Thai take-out to Arthur's and shared the results of his research over mee krob and shrimp curry.
"In 1955 Waite's surgical privileges were revoked at County Medical." Marc dumped fried noodles on his plate and gestured with a chopstick. "It turns out he was trying to lobotomize some poor bastard, and the end of the leucotome broke off while he was forcing it through the orbit--the bony part of the eye socket. A neurosurgeon had to open the patient's brain up and extract the tip, but the patient died a few days later."
Arthur winced and pushed aside the chopstick Marc was using to gleefully demonstrate the botched operation.
"Anyway, that seems to be the last anyone's heard of Dr. Waite. He hasn't published anywhere or appeared at any conferences since then that I could find. I even called the California Licensing Board. Whether he's still around and practicing medicine somewhere on the planet they don't know, but at least he's not licensed in this state anymore."
"So there's some hope for the medical profession after all," Arthur joked bleakly. He had been surprised and relieved by how quickly the fear of Morgan Teague had been subsumed by the mundane work of research and investigation. The few hours after Marc had first suggested Teague was stalking them had been among the longest in Arthur's life. After he called Lil and Peter to warn them, he had gone through the condominium and opened every closet door, as though Teague might be lurking among the suits in his bedroom closet or behind the soup cans in the pantry. Marc had watched him without comment. He knew what Arthur was doing, and why, but he didn't laugh. He didn't say anything when Arthur left the bathroom light on all night.
Not being able to go to sleep in a dark room reminded Arthur unpleasantly of his childhood. Very late into the night he lay listening to Marc's deep, slow breathing beside him and wondered how he could bear to live with this kind of fear in his life again.
But it hadn't lasted. And on the following Saturday afternoon, he and Marc moved into Jesse's apartment in Hollywood.
Having badgered Arthur into letting him come along in the first place didn't keep Marc from complaining loudly about all the inconveniences of moving halfway across town for a week. When Arthur parked the Audi in the rickety open garage behind the apartment, Marc told him, "You know it's probably going to get stolen, don't you? I hope you don't mind me borrowing your car while I'm out here with you, because I'm certainly not going to leave my car parked in this neighborhood."
He was unmoved by the overgrown courtyard garden and the fantastic architectural details, choosing instead to gripe about having to carry the bags of groceries Arthur had bought on the way over. He was cheerfully heedless of the fact that he would probably be eating most of their contents. Arthur didn't say anything, and in the back of his mind he wondered if the time would come when Marc's moods would simply seem tiresome.
At the top of the tile staircase Marc suddenly turned and grinned down at him and announced, "Here's the famed ghosthunter and his youthful sidekick at the site of their latest investigation. Who knows what horrors await?"
"Watch your step," Arthur said, smiling back in spite of himself. "Those bags will make a mess if you drop them."
Marc rolled his eyes and turned and narrowly avoided tripping over a pot of spindly red geraniums.
Eddie met them at the door of the apartment and introduced himself to Marc. "The kitchen's straight to the back there."
"Thanks," Marc grunted. "Arthur told me that professional ghost hunting was wildly glamorous, but I never believed him until now."
"Maybe it's time you started paying attention to your elders," Eddie told him. "Arthur, it's good to see you again. Ready to guide poor Jesse's earthbound spirit to its well-deserved rest?"
Arthur laughed and draped his garment bag over the back of the love seat. "Have you been reading those Spiritualist tracts again?"
"Just talking to your downstairs neighbor, actually. I think you met him last time you were here. Larry Greenwood?"
"I think so." Arthur twisted a lock of hair around his index finger.
"Right. Dreadlocks and trade beads. He's very excited about all this. He wanted me to be sure and tell you that if you need any help, he's available day or night."
"Wonderful. I'll keep it in mind."
"Seriously, if you do need anything, you can always knock on my door."
"Are you kidding?" Marc had returned from the kitchen. "We're professionals. There's nothing this place could throw at us that we're not prepared for." He flung open the french doors to the bedroom. "Jesus. Except for that bed, maybe."
"Now what?" Marc asked after they had finished unpacking.
Arthur was sitting in the living room, just beginning one of the paperback detective novels he had brought with him. "I draw a pentagram on the floor and invoke the Prince of Darkness."
"Very funny. Seriously, what's next?"
"Well, I'm going to read my Dave Brandstetter novel for the next couple of hours, and around seven Ted and Lewis are going to stop by and pick me up to go to the concert at the Santa Monica Pier tonight."
"What? You'd leave me alone with a ghost on the very first night?"
"You're welcome to come with us."
"Some choices," Marc said sourly. "Have you noticed that this place doesn't even have cable?"
Arthur went back to his book.
Arthur planned to meet Ted and Lewis outside to save them the trouble of finding parking on the street. But they arrived early and were fortunate enough to get a spot on the curb just as another car was leaving, and had come up to see the haunted apartment.
Ted glanced around the small, dark living room and announced approvingly, "It certainly looks ghost-ridden to me." His pale blue eyes were alight under his white lashes.
"It just looks like a rat hole to me," Lewis said, but he was smiling. Both of them had been in the sun today, and a red flush overlaid the pallor of Ted's cheeks. Lewis' tremendous arms and legs were bronzed and glowing. He was spending more and more time on the Soloflex these days, as though he were determined, as Ted grew thinner and paler, to somehow have enough strength for both of them.
Following the line of Arthur's gaze, Ted suddenly grinned and wrapped his arm around one of Lewis' vast biceps. "I know. Isn't he just to die for these days? That Thighmaster was the best investment we ever made."
Marc came padding out of the kitchen, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in one hand and an open quart of milk in the other.
"Eek," Lewis said mildly. "The spirits are walking."
"Hi guys. Nice to see you too."
"You hanging in there?" Ted asked. "School going OK?"
"Aw, I can't complain. I'm just glad it's summer."
"Are you coming with us tonight?"
Marc took another bite of his sandwich. "I don't think so. Who's the old fossil you're going to see?"
Lewis told Arthur in an exaggerated aside, "Sure he's cute, but is it really worth the grief?"
Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and regarded Marc with exasperated affection. "It's definitely a trade-off sometimes."
"Ritchie Havens is playing," Ted told Marc patiently. "You should come. I bet you'd like him."
"Ritchie Havens? That old guy from Woodstock? I had no idea he was still around."
With a faintly wounded air Ted said, "There are a few of us still around from Woodstock."
Marc knocked back a tremendous swallow of milk, as though he needed the strength. "The first one? I don't believe it. Don't tell me you were really there."
"Incredible but true."
Marc shook his head. "Let me guess. You're the one splashing naked in the mud with the fat chick."
"Wrong as usual," Lewis said. "I happen to know Ted started the rain chant."
"Oh, come with us," Ted said. "It's the chance of a lifetime. You can see a living legend in the company of living legends."
"You guys?" Marc looked at them skeptically.
"Don't strain yourself," Arthur said.
Marc draped one arm heavily around Arthur's neck. The peanut butter sandwich dangled perilously close to Arthur's shirt front. "Oh well, if I can make Arthur miserable by coming along, count me in."
The pier was mobbed. The four of them paused at the bridge that arched over Pacific Coast Highway and looked down at the throngs of people surging past the carnival rides and food stands. Lewis touched Ted's shoulder for a moment. "Are you sure you're up for this?"
"Of course," Ted assured him, smiling, and they pushed their way into the crowd. It took them nearly ten minutes to make their way over the bridge and onto the pier itself. The wooden planks rumbled underfoot from the weight of cars creeping towards the parking lot behind the carnival rides. The air smelled of fried shrimp and sea water. The crush of people was beginning to make even Arthur think twice about having come. When they passed a miraculously empty bench, Ted tugged on his arm and said,
"I need to sit down for just a minute."
"Should I get Lewis?" Marc and Lewis had gone on ahead, not realizing the other two had stopped.
Ted sat down on the bench. "Let him go on. He's always worrying about me."
"Are you sure? We'll never find them again in this crowd."
"Then we'll meet at the car afterwards."
Arthur sat down beside him. Ted was breathing hard, and there were tiny droplets of sweat on his upper lip. "Can I get you a coke or something?" Arthur asked. "There's a snack bar right across the way."
"I don't wanna be any trouble."
"Lewis always said you were nothing but trouble," Arthur said with a grin.
"In that case, a large coke with extra ice, please. You're buying."
Arthur patted his leg. "I'll be right back."
He got up again and pushed his way through the crowd that was moving inexorably towards the bandstand at the far end of the pier. The snack bar was surrounded by a thick knot of people, but the teenaged boys behind the counter were more efficient than they looked, and they slid two cokes across to Arthur before he'd managed to get his wallet out of his pocket. He fumbled out a five dollar bill, for which he got no change, shoved his wallet back into his jeans pocket and picked up the cokes. The waxed paper cups were very full, and coke slopped over the edges as he turned and began to pick his way back through the press of bodies around the snack bar. He hadn't gone far when a hand grabbed his elbow from behind. He looked around, thinking it was Ted, and found himself face to face with Morgan Teague.
"Morgan." Arthur's mouth went dry. "We've been trying to find you."
Morgan's eyes were bleared, and there was a week-old stubble on his chin. He was dressed in filthy white Giorgio sweats, a black leather fanny pack hanging low on his hips. He smelled as though he hadn't bathed in days. He dropped Arthur's elbow and wrapped his arm tightly around his waist. "People are worried about you," Arthur said, trying gently to pull away from Morgan. More coke slopped over the rim of the cups. "Why don't we go call your wife."
Morgan only tightened his grip, and with his other hand he pressed something cold and hard against Arthur's ribs.
Arthur looked down and saw to his unutterable astonishment that Morgan was holding a gun between them. The crowd pushed around them as Morgan said calmly, "I want you to come with me now. Believe me, I know how to use this thing. I'm a charter member of the Beverly Hills Gun Club."
Arthur couldn't help himself. He looked up from the gun to the ridiculously serious expression on Morgan's face, and he laughed.
The music started at the far end of the pier. There was no preamble, just Ritchie Havens' guitar driving out across the masses of people, almost as frenetic as it had been thirty years ago. The press towards the bandstand became more urgent. There were people all around Arthur and Morgan. A pair of young girls in blue jean shorts and bikini tops crossed right in front of them. Both girls saw the gun at the same time. Their eyes widened and they clutched at one another, turned and ran away. Arthur heard a peal of hysterical laughter as their blonde heads disappeared among the crowd. Morgan Teague paid no attention to them. He only scowled and tightened his arm around Arthur's waist. "Do what I tell you, or I'll shoot you right here."
Arthur stared at him. The first prickling of genuine fear crawled up the back of his scalp, but at the same time he felt an absurd sense of satisfaction. So they had been right all along. It had been one thing to theorize that his office had driven Teague crazy. It was quite another to be faced with the proof of it.
"Come on," Morgan insisted, pulling him along.
"Morgan, what do you think you're doing?" No one seemed to notice them as Morgan forcibly guided Arthur past the skee ball courts and into the arcade. Dozens of teenage boys thronged around them, wearing bandannas or reversed baseball caps, hightops and hugely oversized shorts. The noise of video games was deafening, almost blocking out the roar of the concert outside. Arthur thought that no one would notice if Morgan shot him right there in the middle of the crowd. And even if someone did notice, it was difficult for Arthur to believe that any of those pitiless young faces would care.
The back of the arcade let out onto the quieter side of the pier. The lights of Venice began to twinkle far down the shore as dusk came on. There were fewer people here. Just a handful of optimistic fisherman and pairs of young lovers watching the sunset. Ridiculously, Arthur was still gripping the two cups of coke. The waxed paper was slick with condensation and spilled soda, and his hands were going numb with cold.
"Morgan, please." Arthur said. "You're not yourself. It's the influence of that building. Lil and I were looking for you. We wanted to let you know that you were in danger, but we couldn't find you."
Morgan pulled him around one of the new lifeguard towers being built at the far southern end of the pier. It wasn't finished yet, and there was less light here. A steep ladder barred by a chain led down to a small floating dock where the lifeguard boats would be berthed. Morgan released Arthur and stepped back a little. "Go on."
"Down there?" Arthur hesitated.
Morgan cocked the gun and steadied it with both hands, pointing it squarely at Arthur's head. Arthur had never seen anyone acting like this outside of the movies, and he had to fight the urge to laugh again. Morgan gestured with the gun, and Arthur knelt carefully and put the two drinks down on the planks. It was something of a relief to finally be rid of them. Then he looked up at Morgan. He was still pointing the gun at Arthur's head. "Climb down."
Arthur lifted the chain and started down the ladder. His hands were still numb from clutching the two icy drinks for so long, and it was difficult to hold onto the wide wooden rungs of the ladder. He concentrated on simply getting down without falling. When he finally stood on the dock Morgan said, "Now move back. All the way against the railing."
Arthur did as he was told, and watched as Morgan crawled down the ladder. He did it awkwardly too, having trouble holding onto the gun while climbing down, and it occurred to Arthur that he should go over the rail and jump into the sea before Morgan got down. But before he could make up his mind to do it, Morgan was standing on the dock beside him.
"Now turn around," Morgan said. When Arthur didn't move he went on, exasperated, "Don't be afraid. It's for your own good. I'm going to help you. I'm going to cure you."
"Morgan, please try to think about what you're doing. I don't need to be cured of anything."
When Arthur still didn't move, Teague slapped him. Arthur fell back against the creosote-soaked railing. Tears stung in his eyes, partially from the force of the blow, but mostly from the insult of being hit in the face. Teague put one hand on his shoulder and pushed him around against the chest-high planking.
"Put your hands on the top rail."
Arthur obeyed him. He looked out at the lights on the ocean and waited for the next blow. He was wondering if Morgan was really going to try to lobotomize him, and what his life would be like if he survived it. Teague pressed the gun hard above his kidneys, and got very close, caressing the back of Arthur's neck with his free hand and whispering in his ear, "This is for your own good. I'm here to help you." His breath was rank, and his beard stubble scraped Arthur's cheek. He ran his hand down Arthur's body. "I just want to help you live a normal life."
Arthur shuddered at his touch. "I am living a normal life, Morgan. Listen to yourself. You don't believe what you're saying. There's something else talking through you. Please let me help you."
The gun was withdrawn, and Arthur started to turn.
"Don't move," Morgan said sharply, jamming the nose of the gun up behind the hinge of Arthur's jaw. He pressed himself against Arthur's back, reached around him and groped clumsily between his legs with the hand that wasn't holding the gun. "I want to free you from these harmful compulsions."
Arthur flinched back from the hand fumbling at his crotch and felt Teague's erection press against his hip. "Imagine it," Morgan mumbled. His voice had become a monotonous drone. "Your family will never be embarrassed by you again. You can be just like everyone else."
He was rubbing himself against Arthur's leg and fondling him with clumsy urgency. Arthur remembered Marty taking off her shirt and facing him with the same pathetic insistence. Morgan was still muttering something, but his voice was slurred beyond comprehension by his panting and sobbing. The nose of the gun bumped repeatedly against the back of Arthur's jaw. He expected it to go off every time it knocked against bone or sank into the flesh under his jaw. Morgan's lips touched the back of his neck. There was nowhere for Arthur to go, but he tried to press himself into the planking of the guard rails, as if he could somehow escape through them.
Then Morgan began whispering in his ear. He was saying something over and over again, and suddenly Arthur understood what it was.
"--don't worry--I'll take care of Marc too--"
With a groan of anger, Arthur drove his elbow back into Teague's flat gut.
A thunderclap broke inside his head, and Arthur fell to the wooden deck, deaf and blind. I'm not dead, he thought, astonished. He could feel the splintering planks and square-headed spikes under his hands. He pulled himself up onto his hands and knees, trying to concentrate, but his mind was crowded with extraneous thoughts. Marc hadn't even wanted to come to this concert tonight. Why hadn't he just stayed home?
Arthur's fingers touched a bare ankle. He flung himself after Morgan and wrapped both arms around his legs. He didn't know if Morgan still had the gun, and the flesh between his shoulders crawled in anticipation of the shot.
Morgan reeled above him and fell. Arthur didn't hear himself shouting as they wrestled together on the cold wooden planks. Then Morgan's knee came up and smacked his chin. The crack of bone on bone echoed sickeningly through Arthur's head. His arms relaxed involuntarily, and Morgan pulled himself free and scrambled away. When he was on his feet again he kicked Arthur once in the ribs and then again in the belly when Arthur tried to roll away from him.
Arthur vomited suddenly and violently, but it seemed to clear his head, and when he looked up he could finally see Morgan looming over him. When Morgan kicked at his face, Arthur grabbed his foot and managed to pull him down again. The deck was rocking beneath them, and Arthur got to his knees, searching frantically for Morgan's gun. Darkness had come on suddenly, and the distant yellow pier lights cast black shadows. Arthur saw a metallic glint against the wide, pale planks of the dock and dove for it.
But Morgan lunged after him, grabbed his shoulders and brought him down. Arthur's bruised chin hit the wooden deck and he sprawled flat on his stomach, gasping.
Once again Morgan's voice was right in his ear. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Drake?" he muttered angrily. "Do you know how long they'll give you for attempted rape in this state?" Arthur thrashed violently beneath him, but Morgan wrapped his hands around Arthur's throat from behind and kept whispering something about sodomy laws. What an absurd way to die, Arthur thought bleakly. His legs flopped weighty and useless on the wooden planks. His fingers scrabbled against the inexorable, tightening pressure of Morgan's hands. He was not thinking about anything at all when his fingers closed around Morgan's right thumb and began to force it back. Bright lights were flashing before Arthur's eyes when something finally gave in Morgan's thumb with an almost audible pop.
Morgan screamed and released his grip. Arthur dragged himself towards the end of the dock. He didn't care about the gun or about anything else by now. He just didn't want to fight anymore. When the shouting began, he was pulling himself under the railing. The sea spray felt cool and sweet on his face.
And someone grabbed his shirt from behind and yanked him back. Sick and furious, Arthur rolled over and struck out blindly, but strong arms held him.
"Stop it, baby. It's me."
Arthur coughed and gulped for air.
"Are you hurt?"
Arthur grabbed his arm and tried to pull himself up, but Marc held him tight. "Lie still. Are you all right? He didn't shoot you?"
"Oh, damnit, Marc," Arthur wheezed, frantic. "He's got a gun."
"Calm down. Lewis has him." Marc ran his hand over Arthur's face, then down his sides, looking for injuries. "Please try to concentrate for just a minute. Are you all right?" He tugged the hem of his own t-shirt out of his jeans and used it to wipe the blood and vomit from Arthur's face.
From above and behind Arthur, Ted suddenly called, "Lewis, watch him. He's got something in his hand--"
"Crazy fucker--" Lewis's voice was very close, but Marc was still holding Arthur down, and his body blocked his view.
"It's all over, you bastard." Lewis's voice was heavy with anger. "Just give it a rest."
"Here--" Ted called from above. "It's over here. Please hurry. Someone's been hurt."
Marc looked over his shoulder. "What was it?"
Lewis didn't answer. He held something up outside Arthur's line of sight.
Arthur whispered, "What is it?"
Marc bent down close over Arthur, smoothing his hair back, caressing his face. "Don't worry about it. Just lie still. Everything's all right now."
"Did he have an icepick?"
"No, baby, not exactly," Marc hesitated. "It's a screwdriver."
"Oh no," Arthur laughed soundlessly, hiccuping gasps that hurt his ribs and stomach where Morgan had kicked him. He covered his eyes protectively with both hands. "Oh god, what a mess that would have made."
The police had long since finished with them, and they'd been waiting in the Emergency Room of St. John's for more than three hours now. Ted kept falling asleep on Lewis's shoulder. As it became obvious that it might be hours yet before Arthur saw a doctor, Lewis finally said, "Tell you what. I'm going to drive Sleeping Beauty here home. I'll come back after I get him to bed."
"You don't need to do that," Marc said. "We'll catch a cab home."
"Why don't we all go," Arthur said wearily. "It'll probably be dawn before I get in. I might as well go home and see my own doctor in the morning."
Marc and Lewis both said, "No," and Lewis went on, "You might have cracked ribs."
"Yeah," Marc said. "Just hang tight. I'm sure it won't be much longer now." To Lewis he said, "You and Ted go on. I'll make sure Arthur stays till he sees a doctor. We'll call you if we need a ride home."
"Well, all right," Lewis said uneasily. "You promise to call if you need me?"
"Of course," Marc said.
Lewis gently shifted Ted's head off his shoulder. "Wake up, buddy. We're going home."
Arthur began, "I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am about all this--"
Ted blinked sleepily at him. "Would you knock it off? It's been a lovely evening. Now if you'd actually gotten yourself killed, that might have put a damper on things."
"The man's right," Lewis managed a smile. "We haven't had so much excitement in ages." His expression turned somber again. "I'll call if I don't hear from you. You'll be at Arthur's? Not that apartment in Hollywood?"
"If we ever get out of here we'll go to Arthur's," Marc said. "We'll let you know how things go."
After they had gone, Marc sighed and stretched on the hard plastic waiting room chair and said, "I think they've forgotten about us. I'm gonna go talk to the nurse at the desk again."
"All right." Something in Arthur's voice made Marc look back sharply. He took Arthur's hand.
"Are you sure you don't want to stretch out? There's room. Here, you can rest your head on my lap."
Arthur freed his hand. "No."
"Well, OK, then," Marc said unhappily. "I'll go talk to the nurse. I'll be right back."
Arthur was glad to be left alone for a few moments. He tried without much success to muster a smile for Marc when he returned.
"They don't know how much longer it's gonna be. How are you holding up?"
Arthur didn't say anything, not realizing Marc was waiting for an answer until Marc went on, "Hey, sweetheart, I'm talking to you."
"Oh, yeah, right. You realize we're a matched set now, don't you?" Marc was trying to joke, but his nervousness showed through. "Your powder burns are gorgeous."
Arthur had seen his own face in the hospital bathroom a few hours ago. His right cheek was streaked black. He'd tried to wash it off with a paper towel, and been unpleasantly surprised to find that the marks didn't come off, and that the entire side of his face was numb to the touch.
He looked up and saw Marc watching him too closely. "What?"
"I was just wondering what the hell you could have been thinking of, wandering off by yourself like that. If Ted hadn't seen you going into the arcade you'd probably be swimming in the bay now."
"I'm sorry. I guess it was a stupid thing to do."
"Jesus, don't apologize. Morgan was so crazy it might have happened anywhere. At least it wasn't any worse. He could have killed you, you realize that?"
"Goddamnit, Marc," Arthur said quietly, "Would you just leave me alone?"
Marc flinched back. A slow red flush crept up to his hairline, but he answered steadily, "No, I won't. Sorry."
Arthur stared at him, and after a moment, he began to cry. Marc reached up and brushed away the first tears. "Oh, don't do that. It's not like I'm any great prize, you know."
Arthur shook his head, smiling, and wept harder than ever. Marc sighed and gently pulled Arthur's head down to rest on his shoulder. "Feel free to blow your nose on my shirt, too," he grumbled. "It's already a total loss after tonight."
When Lil came to see them several days later she brought a bottle of Absolut and a small, woody plant in a terra cotta planter. "I'm sure you shouldn't be drinking yet. But you'll know it's waiting for you when you're ready." She handed the bottle to Marc. "To the freezer, I presume?"
"Of course. What I've never understood is, if this stuff is supposed to be so good, how come Arthur only drinks it at sub-freezing temperatures?"
Lil set the plant down on the coffee table in front of Arthur.
"Thank you," Arthur said. "What is it?"
"I won't bore you with stories of how many nurseries I had to go to to find it."
"How thoughtful, Lil. I'm touched."
Marc returned from the kitchen and Arthur told him, "Look, it's wolfsbane."
"Really. How nice. Just what everyone brings to a sick friend."
"According to eastern European folklore, it's protection against all kinds of bad influences. Werewolves, vampires, evil spirits, you name it."
"Wow. We could have used some Saturday night."
Lil smiled bleakly. "Better late than never. How are you feeling?"
"I'm OK, really. Just a little stiff and sore."
"Oh, right." Marc flopped down on the sofa beside Arthur. "He's such a big baby. You should hear him moaning and groaning about every little thing. And he didn't even need stitches."
Lil cocked her head to one side. "He still looks pretty pathetic, though."
"Don't remind me," Arthur said, rubbing his throat where Morgan's ragged fingernails had left raw scratches. "I don't even want to go out in public until these heal."
"I can see why not." Lil agreed. "It looks like some poor innocent girl had to use her nails to fight off your loathsome advances."
Marc smirked. "Some poor innocent boy, more like it. Do you want something to drink, Lil? There's white wine in the fridge."
"No, I'm fine, thanks."
"I'd like a glass of wine, since you're offering," Arthur said.
Marc frowned at him.
"Don't look at me like that. It's been twenty-four hours since I had a pain pill."
"You might need one tonight, though, and you won't be able to take one if you've been drinking."
"I'm not going to need one."
Marc didn't move. Arthur sighed. "This is embarrassing in front of a guest, Marc."
"Oh dear," Lil murmured. "Now I'm a guest."
"Look, Arthur, it would make me really, really happy if you didn't have anything to drink tonight, not even a glass of wine." Marc smiled crookedly and patted Arthur's thigh. "I promise I'll make it up to you later."
Lil stood up. "Maybe I've come at a bad time."
"I'm sorry, Lil." Arthur waved her down again. "Don't go. Marc and I will try to be civil."
"See what I mean?" Marc said. "It's like trying to take care of a little kid. I practically had to tie him down to get him to wait in the Emergency Room for a doctor."
"Five hours," Arthur said. "Then it was two more hours after they took the x-rays before anyone bothered to tell me that I was fine and I could go home."
"It sounds terrible."
"He survived," Marc said unsympathetically.
"Have you heard anything more about Teague?" Lil asked.
Arthur said, "I think he's still being evaluated at County."
She shook her head a little. "That poor man. I can't help wondering if there's anything we could have done, if we'd figured out what was going on just a little earlier."
"I was thinking about that morning at Farmers' Market, when you tried to tell me about the inklings you'd had about the person who attacked Marc. Maybe if I'd helped you follow that up instead of brushing it all aside like I did--"
"There's no assurance things would have turned out any differently than they did," Arthur said. "Besides, it will make an incredible article. We don't usually have arrest records and police reports to append to our case notes."
"That's true. Morgan requested anonymity when he hired us, didn't he? Now it's all a matter of public record."
"You two really had me fooled," Marc announced. "All this time I thought your ghosthunting was a quiet profession, a little wacky, maybe, but basically civilized. But you're absolutely ruthless. Arthur gets the shit kicked out of him and comes this close to getting his head blown off, and as far as you're both concerned, it just makes a better story for one of your obscure, raggedy little journals. That's so fucking crazy it scares me."
"What would you prefer?" Arthur asked seriously. "I suppose we could make the tabloid TV circuit."
"Sure," Lil agreed. "Hard Copy, Unsolved Mysteries, Geraldo and Oprah--"
Marc groaned. "Now I need a drink."
"You're not fooling me, you know," Marc said much later.
Arthur was huddled on the sofa in a heap of pillows and blankets. A book was open on his lap, and the television was on. He looked up at Marc innocently. "I would never try to fool you. What are you talking about?"
"This business of falling asleep in front of the TV the past two nights. I think it's time for you to turn that thing off and come to bed."
"I'm watching Letterman."
"Give me a break, Arthur. They're all reruns."
"Martin Mull is on tonight."
"We saw this one about six months ago. Look, I know what's going on. If you want to leave some lights on, that's fine with me. But you can't go to sleep in front of the TV every single night."
"Because, you selfish bastard, I'm tired of sleeping alone in your big bed." His voice softened. "Look, it's all over. Morgan's been put away. You can relax now. Why don't you let Lil write it up if you're so hot to get a story out of it?" Marc pushed aside the pillows and blankets so he could sit down next to him. "In fact, if you feel up to it, why don't we go back to Eddie's apartment tomorrow? That's what you need. A nice, simple haunting to put all this behind you."
At Marc's gentle urging, Arthur turned and stretched out so he could rest his head on Marc's lap. "Maybe that's not such a bad idea," he mused, looking into Marc's downturned face. "I could work there as easily as here."
"What work?" Marc asked. "I was picturing you sitting around eating bonbons and watching the soaps while we wait for the ghost to make its appearance."
"Lil and I are still trying to track down all the people who ever occupied Teague's offices. I'd been calling professional organizations, but I could easily do that from the apartment--"
Marc put his hand over Arthur's mouth, cutting him off mid-sentence. "Hello? Have you heard anything I've said?"
Arthur looked up at him, wide-eyed.
"I'd like you to lay off the whole Morgan Teague business altogether, OK?"
He lifted his hand for Arthur to answer him.
"But, Marc, all the work--"
Marc clamped his hand over Arthur's mouth again. "I can already tell that's the wrong answer. You're supposed to say, 'How right you are, Marc. I'll never mention Morgan Teague again.'"
Arthur kissed Marc's palm.
"Bribery will avail you nothing," Marc told him sternly.
Arthur pushed Marc's hand away. "This is one of the most incredible cases Lil and I have ever come across," he said seriously. "You can't expect me to drop it before tying up all the loose ends."
"OK, fine. Getting beat up and shot at are all in a day's work for you. Did you ever think that maybe I'm sick and tired of being reminded of this whole business?"
Arthur reached out and traced the long, pink scar down the side of Marc's face. "I think of it every time I look at you."
"Wonderful. Just the emotions I want to inspire in a lover. Pity and regret."
"If you really want me to drop it, I will. Of course you're more important to me than any case."
"It's not for my sake, Arthur. It's you I'm worried about."
"But I'm OK."
Marc looked at him skeptically.
"All right, maybe I'm still a little wound up. But I want to see this through now. Besides, there's hardly anything more to do. Just a little research into the old tenants. Nothing could be blander or safer, right?"
"I have absolutely no reason to believe you, you realize that, don't you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just what it sounds like. But that's OK. If you come to bed like a good boy I'll let you go back to work on your little science project in the morning."
"Anything if you'll stop pestering me." Arthur began gathering pillows and blankets in his arms to carry them back to bed.
"Did Morgan say anything to you?" Marc asked suddenly.
"Oh, I don't know, the last time you played poker together. You moron, when do you think?"
"He didn't really say anything to me on the pier. Just nonsense. He was rambling on about unnatural compulsions, and how he was going to cure me."
Marc shuddered. "Shit, that's creepy."
"Yes it was. Thank you for bringing it up again."
Unabashed, Marc said, "I don't understand why you let him take you all the way to the back of the pier like that."
"He had a gun."
"Yeah, but you knew what he was planning to do. I mean, if it was a choice between being shot and being lobotomized with a screwdriver, I think I'd prefer a nice, clean gunshot any day."
"I'll keep that in mind if the situation comes up again."
"Was it because of me?"
"Did you go off with Morgan to keep him from coming after me?"
"It wasn't anything heroic or self-sacrificing, if that's what you're asking. I was too terrified to think rationally about anything."
"All right, I'll leave it alone."
"You're still my hero, though."
Arthur smiled a little. "Does that mean you're going to start doing the dishes around here once in a while?"
The phone rang at ten the next morning. Arthur went to answer it with no particular feelings of trepidation.
"Arthur, dear. I hope I'm not calling at a bad time."
"Of course not, Mother." He sat down heavily on the sofa. "How nice of you to call."
"I know we just talked last week. I try not to bother you at home too often--"
"I'm always glad to hear from you and Dad."
"Well, you're sweet to say so."
"Mom, what's up?"
"We've got big news about the house, and I wanted to let you know."
Arthur felt the familiar, heavy ache settling around his heart. "What is it?"
"Oh don't sound like that. It's good news. Your father has decided not to sell."
Arthur wasn't sure he had heard correctly. "You're not going to sell the house?"
"Well, apparently the market's not very good right now, and we never really wanted to let it go, anyway."
"I know, but I've explained that I can't--"
"Calm down, dear heart. We're not asking you to come home right away. It wasn't very fair of us to ask in the first place. It's just a little dream we've always had, and I'm afraid we weren't very nice about it when you weren't as enthusiastic as we were. You know how hard-headed your father can be. That comes from the Drake side of the family, I'm afraid. His mother was the same way. Have I ever told you how that woman frightened me before we were married? Even after we were married."
"I know. I remember being a little afraid of her myself," Arthur said patiently. "What about the house?"
"Your father's decided to lease it for a few years instead of selling it."
The immensity of his relief left Arthur at a loss for words. His mother continued cheerfully, "Our agent found us some very promising tenants, a couple of young lawyers up from Atlanta. They seem like very nice young men. We were both a little hesitant about renting to bachelors, but we met them when they came up to look at the house, and even your father admitted that they seemed very responsible."
"That's wonderful news," Arthur said softly.
"Well, I think so. Like I said, it's not a very good time to sell anyway. And your father and I both want you to think seriously about coming back home one day, but it's only fair to give you a few years to think it over, instead of just a few months."
"That's very generous of you. I don't know what to say."
"What do you mean by that? You're our son. And I do know that growing up in this house wasn't always the easiest thing in the world. Just let us know when you decide."
She went on briskly, "The new tenants are moving in in January. So you've still got six, seven months if you'd like to come home for a visit before we leave. How's your friend Marc?"
"He's doing fine." Arthur said, startled.
"I'm glad. You know what I was thinking? Maybe you'd like to invite him to come home with you. After an unpleasant experience like he's been through, it might be nice for him to get away from the city for a little while. Now, I know you're in the middle of a new case or investigation or whatever you call it, but if you have some free time, I wish you'd consider it. We'd love to see you and your friend."
"I will," Arthur agreed, astonished. He had no idea how much to read into his mother's words.
That afternoon he and Marc returned to the apartment in Hollywood. Arthur hadn't told Marc about the conversation with his mother yet. He was still trying to decide what to make of it. Marc had gone on ahead, and Arthur was preoccupied with his own thoughts when Eddie came out and caught up to him at the foot of the stairs.
"Arthur! It's good to see you. What's that they say about getting right back on the horse?"
"I wouldn't know. A shetland pony threw me when I was twelve years old, and I never went horseback riding again."
"I don't think I believe that story. How are you feeling?"
Arthur tapped his bruised chin lightly. "Actually, I feel fine. Just a little stiff in the mornings, but that's probably because I'm getting old."
Eddie shook his head. "I couldn't believe it when Marc called and told me what had happened. I had no idea parapsychology was so dangerous. From watching the psychics on the daytime talk shows, I'd assumed the worst you'd have to put up with was the occasional demonic possession."
Arthur raised one eyebrow. "But what are mere physical dangers compared to the risk to my immortal soul?"
"I think I finally figured out who you remind me of. All you need's a top hat and a goatee, and you'd be a dead ringer for Mandrake the Magician."
"Well, for heaven's sake, don't tell Marc. I'd never hear the end of it."
"He's much too young to know who Mandrake is."
"Please, Eddie. He collects old comics. You mention Mandrake, and I'll have to put up with jokes about rhyming incantations and 'gesturing hypnotically' for weeks."
"My lips are sealed, then. You'll let me know if you need anything?"
"If mere physical dangers threaten, don't forget a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy stands willing and able to serve." Eddie flexed one of his long, stringy arms, and a surprisingly hard knot of muscle lifted the rayon sleeve of his Hawaiian shirt.
"I'll keep it in mind. Thanks."
The door of Jesse's apartment stood open. Arthur walked in and Marc called from the kitchen, "Bad news, Arthur. That chicken you bought Saturday has already gone bad. I'll go do some shopping if you don't feel up to it."
Arthur counted the days on his fingers. "Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday--you're right. It's probably time to pitch it."
"Oh, I'm so glad you agree." Marc came out of the kitchen carrying the package of raw chicken at arm's length. "Are the garbage cans out back?"
"To the side, I think. Around from the garage. Is it really that bad?"
"Can't you smell it?"
Marc stopped and sniffed cautiously. "I guess I don't really smell it now either. It just about knocked me over when I first came in, though. Hey." Marc turned around, his eyes wide and shining. "Is this the famous stinking ghost making his first appearance?"
"More likely it's the rotting chicken. Go ahead and take it out of here."
Marc stomped out of the apartment. "Fine. I should know better by now. You don't believe in anything until it kicks you in the ribs a couple of times."
Arthur slept soundly that night for the first time in a week, in spite of Marc's complaints that the bed was too small and the mattress too hard. He awoke late the next morning feeling strong and whole, showered until the hot water ran out and the small, unventilated bathroom was thick with steam. Water droplets ran down the mirror and off the steel fixtures. He had to step out into the bedroom to dry off, and the steam came billowing after him into the cooler room.
The apartment smelled wonderfully of toast and coffee. Marc was sitting on the naugahyde recliner in the living room with the phone on his lap. "Good morning to you," he said cheerfully when Arthur came in. "You know a brigade of ghosts could have come tromping through the apartment last night and you would have slept through it all."
"You're probably right."
"I was just gonna call your answering machine. You don't mind, do you? I left your number on some job applications and I wanted to see if I'd gotten any call backs."
"I didn't know you were job hunting," Arthur followed the smell of coffee into the kitchen.
"No, I was just planning on living off you all summer," Marc called after him.
Arthur had to look through the cabinets for a coffee cup, and he finally found a heavy white ceramic mug that looked as though it could have come from a diner. He poured himself a cup of coffee and walked back into the living room to ask Marc what kind of job he was looking for.
Marc looked up at him and held the phone out, wordlessly.
"What is it?"
"I think you better hear this message," Marc said quietly.
"Is it bad news?"
"I don't know."
"Just tell me what it is," Arthur snapped, suddenly nervous and angry by the tone of Marc's voice.
Marc put the phone down. "It's Morgan Teague's wife. She wants you to call her."
"Why on earth would she want to talk to me?"
"She says the doctors at County were running all sorts of tests on Morgan, looking for evidence of a brain tumor, or whatever. They didn't find a tumor."
Arthur sank into a chair. He knew what was coming.
"She says they did find that his prefrontal cortex had been severed." Marc's voice had gotten high, as though he were about to begin laughing or crying. "So the doctors and the police have been asking her when and where Morgan could have undergone a lobotomy."
By the time Arthur found a place to park he was already forty-five minutes late. It had been a long time since he'd driven to Long Beach, and he hadn't realized that the 405 Freeway would be bumper-to-bumper even at three in the afternoon. He left his car parked in an alley near a dumpster. The warm smell of rotting food made him feel a little sick after the long drive, and when a ragged man suddenly darted out of a doorway and demanded, "Watch your car, mister?" Arthur gave him a dollar without demur.
It took him another ten minutes to walk back to the address he'd been given. He pushed his way in past a heavy door set with opaque yellow glass, and then hesitated on the threshold, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom after the glare of the late afternoon sunlight.
It was a workingman's bar, small and dark. A row of booths stretched along one wall. Half a dozen regulars were seated at the bar in back, and they turned cold, incurious eyes in Arthur's direction. They were all past fifty, men and women alike thick and leathery after a lifetime of hard work and too many afternoons in establishments like this. The air was dense with the smoke from their cigarettes.
Arthur wondered if he had come to the right place, and he was trying to decide whether he should go order a drink when a young man he had not noticed before emerged from one of the booths and said, "You've gotta be Arthur Drake. I'm Dave. I was just about to give up on you."
"I'm sorry I'm so late. The traffic was worse than I expected."
"It always is, man. Have a seat."
Arthur slid into the booth across from Dave. He was an aggressively pretty boy, and he seemed as wildly out of place in this bar as Arthur felt. His long blonde hair fell in waves to his shoulders, and his white Gap t-shirt was tight enough to show off his carefully-developed pecs. Even though it was eighty degrees outside he had a long-sleeved flannel shirt knotted around his waist, and Arthur suspected he was probably wearing hiking boots and thick wool socks as well.
A little collection of empty shot glasses was clustered on the table in front of him. Arthur said, "I appreciate your meeting me like this. Can I get you a drink?"
"I won't say no to that." Dave held out his hand, unembarrassed, and Arthur gave him a twenty. "You've got to try the specialty of the house."
"This place has a specialty?"
"Oh yeah," Dave grinned wolfishly. "You're in for a treat."
He jumped up and strode back to the bar. The regulars watched him with a mixture of scorn and lust.
He came back with four shot glasses on a serving tray. He set two glasses down carefully in front of Arthur and took two for himself. The drinks looked somehow strange to Arthur. He picked up a glass.
"What is this?"
"Monkey Brains. Specialty of the house. Vodka, grenadine and Bailey's Irish Creme."
Red grenadine syrup lay at the bottom of the glass. Suspended in the vodka was a single, fat drop of Bailey's, a slightly flattened ball of cream with an irregular surface. A little stem hung off the droplet almost down to the grenadine, and it did indeed look something like a very small brain floating in alcohol. Arthur grimaced. "This is revolting."
"That's the point." With another grin at Arthur, Dave tossed back both his drinks, one after the other, then smacked his lips. "It doesn't get any better than this."
"I don't think I can drink this."
"Oh, come on. At least try it."
Arthur sighed, but finally drained his glass.
The sweetness of the grenadine washed away the faintly chemical flavor of bad vodka. He didn't taste the Bailey's, but it lingered unpleasantly at the back of his throat, like a bit of phlegm that he couldn't quite cough up.
Arthur pushed his other glass across the table. He was tired of performing in Dave's little show, and he had finally realized, in spite of the dim light of the bar, that Dave wasn't a boy at all. His childish mannerisms notwithstanding, he was much closer to thirty than twenty. "I'm going to get a beer," Arthur said. "Do you want one?"
"Sure. But what'd you think?"
"I'm nauseated, of course."
Dave shrugged and tossed back the last glass of Monkey Brains himself.
The bartender served Arthur two draft beers in mugs that were still warm from the dishwasher. Arthur avoided meeting the eyes of any of the other patrons as he carried the beers back to the table. He was tired and embarrassed and beginning to wonder why he had even bothered to come down here. When he brought the beer back to the table, Dave drank half his mug in a swallow, and Arthur suspected that he was probably just as glad as Arthur to wash away the last of the grenadine and Bailey's.
Dave said, "I'm kinda surprised that Linda even told you how to get in touch with me. I know that cunt has always hated me."
"In light of the things that have happened since Marty's death, Linda agreed that I ought to talk to you."
"Yeah, that's what you said on the phone." Dave pushed the beer mug aside abruptly and leaned across the table towards Arthur. "So what happened to your face, anyway?"
Arthur told him.
Dave leaned back in the booth and hooted with nervous laughter. "I don't believe it. I don't fucking believe it. That guy Teague really tried to shoot you?"
"The gun went off. I don't know if he actually meant to pull the trigger."
Dave laughed again. "Unbelievable. Why would he do something like that?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about."
"You mean you didn't drive all the way down here just to try the Monkey Brains? Well, I don't know what I can tell you. I mean, I never even met Teague. I just heard Marty talking about him."
"I know that you and Marty broke up last year," Arthur said carefully, "And I understand that Marty had suddenly changed quite a bit. In the last weeks before Morgan attacked me, he changed in very similar ways. It would be helpful it you could tell me when you first noticed anything different about Marty."
"That's pretty personal," Dave complained. "I don't really see that it's any of your business. I don't even know you, man, and I find it pretty hard to believe that some lawyer going gun crazy on the Santa Monica Pier has anything to do with Marty."
As much as Arthur disliked Dave, he could sympathize with his skepticism. Arthur finished his own beer, and then told him the entire story, from the first time Morgan Teague had contacted Arthur looking for an exorcist, to the final, painful interview with Mrs. Teague. He and Lil had gone to see her in her beautiful house on Bentley two days before, and she had wept and raged at them for more than an hour. "Why didn't you tell me what was going on?" she kept demanding, too grief-stricken to remember or care that they had tried to do just that.
Dave listened to it all without comment, and when Arthur was through he said only, "I need another beer."
Arthur got up and bought two more. When he came back, Dave was sitting with his head in his hands. Without looking at Arthur he said, "You think Marty was lobotomized too. That's why you're here talking to me."
"We suspect she may have been."
"And you don't know who did it?"
Dave looked up. The arrogance and playacting were finally gone. He still looked younger than his years, but now it was the expression of helpless, angry fear in his eyes that made him seem like a child. "I don't understand why the police aren't all over this. Some lunatic's going around sticking an icepick in people's brains, and the only person investigating it is you? Don't get me wrong. I never met a ghosthunter before, and that's pretty cool, I guess, but for this?"
"Lil and I talked to the police yesterday. They're not interested in stories of half-minded ghosts haunting an office building. And they've already explained Teague's lobotomy. It seems he went to the Philippines six months ago to be treated by a psychic surgeon for gallstones. The police think that the lobotomy took place then."
Dave snorted. "Yeah, I saw a special on psychic surgery once. That's where some glorified witch doctor pretends to operate on you with his bare hands without anesthesia or anything, right? But it's all done with sleight of hand and fresh chicken livers. If you ask me, that seems like a far fucking cry from even a bargain-basement lobotomy."
"I agree. That's why my associates and I are continuing to investigate on our own."
"So what do you want from me?"
"Linda told me that she came by Marty's apartment one afternoon last year about the time you and her sister broke up, and Marty had two black eyes. She thought you'd done it."
"The lying bitch," Dave snarled, "that was not me. It just about broke my heart when I found Marty like that, cause that's when I knew she'd started steppin' out on me. She had some new boyfriend and he was already slapping her around. I even thought it might have been her boss, but I swear to you I never hit Marty."
"I know. I don't think anyone else did, either. But from the accounts I've read, it was common for victims of a trans-orbital lobotomy to develop black eyes after the procedure."
"Oh, shit." Dave's hands had started to tremble. He wrapped them tightly around his beer mug. "Oh fuck, man. This is too much for me." He ducked his head down, and his long blonde hair hid his face.
Arthur went on as gently as he could, "Can you remember when this was? Linda thought it was October or November, but she wasn't any more certain than that. It might help if we could pin down exactly when the lobotomy might have taken place."
"God, what a day that was," Dave said, his voice muffled. "She was being a real bitch, all spaced out and stupid. She wouldn't tell me what had happened, and I got so mad I felt like I could have killed her." He looked up, red-eyed. "It wasn't just because I thought she was sleeping around. I wasn't always totally faithful either, you know, but at least I was honest about it. She just kept talking nonsense about some stupid Halloween party at the office--"
Dave broke off, then said, "Well, that's when it was. I came over the Sunday after Halloween. I was trying to get her to tell me who'd punched her out, and all she could talk about was getting so drunk at the stupid office party that someone had to give her a ride home afterwards. She'd gone to work dressed up as Medusa. She told me the rubber snakes kept falling out of her hair."
He couldn't go on. He sat across the table from Arthur, rocking in his seat as he fought to hold back tears. When he was calmer, Arthur asked quietly, "Do you know who gave her a ride home after the party?"
"You think the guy who drove her home did it?"
"I don't know. I'd like to talk to him. Do you know who it was?"
"Oh man, I don't have any idea. I don't think she mentioned a name. I just don't know. Oh shit. This is totally, totally fucked. How the fuck was I supposed to know she'd had a lobotomy for chrissake?" He laughed, sounding a little hysterical.
"Please try to think," Arthur insisted gently. "You thought she'd been with another man. Wouldn't you ask who had driven her home?"
"Maybe I did, but I don't remember now. It's been eight months. How the hell do you expect me to remember?"
"This is important. If you would just try to think back--"
"No. Fuck this. Marty's dead and as far as I'm concerned, this is all a load of shit." Dave had found a new role to play. Rage was more satisfying than grief, and made a better show for the impassive regulars at the bar. "And I think you're as fucking crazy as Marty was. So why don't you just get the fuck out of here and leave me the fuck alone."
Arthur pulled out one of his cards and left it on the table between them. It seemed as though every interview on this case had eventually degenerated to exactly this point, with Arthur facing people who were sick and shaking with rage. He had always prided himself in possessing a certain innate sense of tact, but he certainly seemed to have lost his touch lately. Maybe Lil should start conducting the interviews.
"That's my phone number," he told Dave. "If you think of anything and want to give me a call--"
Dave snorted and shook his head. "Don't you understand English, asshole? Read my lips and just leave me the fuck alone."
Arthur stood up and left. The gaze of the regulars burned into his back as he pushed his way through the heavy door and onto the sidewalk again.
It was a quarter past five by the time he got back on the freeway, and the northbound traffic on the 405 was atrocious. Arthur listened to All Things Considered on the Santa Monica public radio station and tried to put aside his growing depression. From the very beginning, the violence and sadness of this case had sickened him. He thought that if there were any way now that he could take Marc's advice and simply drop the whole thing, he would do it.
But of course it was too late for that now. Arthur took the Lincoln Boulevard exit and drove once again to Morgan Teague's office. He had no idea if Brownley would even talk to him, but when he got there, the man let Arthur into the lobby without a word. Outside it was still light, but the lobby of the building was dim.
Brownley shook his head and peered at Arthur closely. "I heard all about it," he said. "It's all anyone in the building's talked about all week. I'm sorry I didn't take you more seriously when you were here before. But who would have thought that Morgan Teague, of all people--" Brownley trailed off, shaking his head. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. More scared than hurt," Arthur assured him.
"Does anyone know why he did it?"
"He's still being evaluated," Arthur hedged. "But I think it may have had something to do with the influence of this building. That's what I wanted to talk to you about, if you've got a minute."
"Of course," Prompted perhaps by some obscure sense of guilt over his earlier brusqueness, Brownley was making an attempt to be friendly now. He went back to his desk and produced a stainless steel flask from underneath a panel of lighted switches. "Sip of brandy?"
Arthur shook his head. "No, thank you." After the Monkey Brains and beer, brandy would have finished him off.
Brownley shrugged and put the flask away. "What can I help you with?"
"I wonder if you can tell me anything about a Halloween party that was held in the building last year. Or maybe just in Teague's office, I'm not really sure."
"The Halloween party? What does that have to do with anything?"
"I don't know yet. Do you know anything about it?"
"Sure I remember it. A new management company had just taken over the building, and they threw a party for the tenants. They had decorations in the lobby here, and a lot of the secretaries were wearing costumes. It was extra work for the staff, and people drank too much since the liquor was free."
"Do you remember Marty's being there?"
"I think she and Morgan Teague were there." Brownley frowned with the effort of trying to remember. "It's been a long time." He looked up and smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid my memory's not what it used to be."
"I understand Marty had to get a ride home from someone. There isn't any chance that you could remember who it was?"
"Oh lord, Mr. Drake. I have no idea. I'm sorry."
"Oh well. It was a long shot. Thanks for your help anyway."
Are you sure you won't have a drink with me?" Brownley smiled a bit, a lonely old man with a boring job, putting aside some of his pride to ask for company. Arthur almost accepted, but he was tired, and simply being in this building made him feel skittish, as though cold fingers might reach out from the gloom of the lobby at any moment, tilt his head, push an eyelid back--
"Another time, perhaps."
Brownley nodded to let Arthur know that it was all right and led the way to the front doors. "I'll give you a call if I remember anything," he said.
"Thank you." Arthur shook his hand at the door.
The drive out to Hollywood took him another forty-five minutes. He stumbled wearily up the stairs to the apartment, thinking how nice it would be if Marc had dinner started. More unlikely things had happened.
Marc met him at the door, his face suffused with excitement. Arthur noticed that, as he had suspected, there was no smell of cooking.
"You'll never guess what happened," Marc said, pulling him eagerly into the living room.
"I give up. What happened."
Marc was beaming. "I saw Jesse."
Arthur was so tired, his mind so filled with Morgan Teague, that it took him a moment to realize what Marc was talking about. "You saw the ghost?"
Marc was obviously disappointed by Arthur's lackluster response. "Yes I did. I'm pretty sure, anyway. Don't you even want to hear about it?"
"Of course I do." Arthur sat down on the nearest chair and eased his shoes off.
"All right. I'd been on campus, right? Checking out the job listings. I got back here about three, and I was just coming up the stairs when I happened to notice this blonde guy standing in the courtyard. I didn't think anything about it at first, but then when I got up to the balcony I suddenly thought that it was a little weird."
"I don't know why. Maybe because it seemed like he was just standing there. I mean, I know you like that jungle of a garden, but as far as being a place just to hang out? I dunno. Anyway, the point is, I turned around and looked over the balcony railing to see what he was doing, and he just wasn't there."
Marc paused dramatically. Arthur only shrugged, and immediately felt mean when Marc looked crestfallen.
Belatedly trying to be a little kinder, Arthur said, "Are you certain he didn't just go into one of the units? Even you noticed that there's no reason for anyone to just hang out in the garden."
"No, I don't see how he could have," Marc protested. "It was just a few seconds between the time I first saw him and I looked back--"
"That's plenty of time to step through a door. Think about it. If you didn't know that this building is supposed to be haunted, would you even have thought twice about it?"
Marc crossed his arms over his chest sullenly. "I don't know. It was pretty spooky. It really was like he just disappeared."
Arthur waited, and eventually Marc sat down heavily in the chair across from him. "Okay. I can't prove it was a ghost. Does it even get noted in the log?" he asked, sounding pitiful.
Arthur felt like a brute. "Of course I'll write it up. Who knows? Of course it could have been Jesse. I only meant that since we can't rule out a more prosaic explanation, we can't assume it was a ghost."
"Are you just humoring me?" Marc asked suspiciously.
"I would never do that."
"Oh, I don't know. I've seen you do just about anything to keep me from pouting. Fine. It wasn't a ghost. I'm a grownup. I can accept that." Marc grinned. "So how was your day, honey?"
Arthur told him.
"Whew," Marc said. "Do you really think somebody lobotomized Marty after the office Halloween party?"
"I don't know." Arthur got off the chair, stretched out on the floor and rested his head in the crook of his arm. "At this point, I'm about ready to believe the police are right. Marty was schizophrenic and Teague had a lobotomy while he was in the Philippines."
Marc knelt over Arthur and began to work on the knots in his shoulders. "Do you really believe that?"
"No. But I was just lecturing you on how we should look for the ordinary explanation before jumping to extraordinary ones."
Marc chuckled. "So you were. Now bend your extraordinary mental talents to more ordinary matters. Have you thought about what we're going to do for dinner tonight?"
It was hard for him to wake up. He had been dreaming of the Halloween party in Teague's office building, and he was talking to Marty, who was dressed in a toga and had somehow contrived to knot a dozen rubber snakes in her hair. When he looked more closely, though, he had seen that the snakes weren't rubber at all. Twisting through her tangled blonde hair were a multitude of little green garden snakes. They rested on her shoulders or rose up, cobra-like, above her forehead, and in his dream, Arthur was rather charmed by the effect. She was telling him something important and he was listening closely, grateful for her candor. "Thank you," he told her when she was done. "Everything is much clearer now."
Marty smiled cheerfully at him. Her toga left one of her plump white shoulders bare, and she was so happy and pretty that Arthur was just on the verge of telling her that she really ought to dump Dave at her earliest convenience, when someone touched his arm. He turned and saw Brownley offering a tray of canapes. He started to take one, and then realized they stank like rotten meat. He recoiled, and Marc said, insistently, "Damnit, Arthur, would you please wake up."
He looked around for Marty, but she was already gone. And then he saw she had left the snakes behind. They coiled on the waxed linoleum floor of the lobby. Arthur felt a sudden, wrenching sorrow, and opened his eyes.
Marc's face hovered whitely in the darkness, only inches from his own. "Oh Jesus, Arthur. It's happening. It's happening right now."
Arthur moved too quickly, forgetting where he was, and barked his elbow on the knobby brass bedstead behind him. He groaned at the sudden shock, then realized that he could still smell the stink of Brownley's rotting canapés.
He sat up in the bed and looked around the dark room. A dim light was coming from somewhere, and after a moment he saw that it was shining through the white lace curtains that covered the french doors leading into the living room.
The stench was overpowering, hanging in the room like a fog. Arthur covered his nose and mouth with his hand, but the sweet, disgusting reek bled through his fingers. He turned back the sheet with his free hand and got out of bed. He was dimly aware that Marc was close beside him. Arthur walked slowly across the room to the doors. His feet were heavy and numb, and he couldn't feel the carpet under his bare soles. His pulse roared in his ears. His eyes were straining wide open in the darkness.
He reached the french doors and pushed them open and looked into the living room.
A boy reclined on the sofa. He was thin and pretty, and he seemed to smile at Arthur before the flesh melted off his bones, soaked into the couch and ran across the floor in thick, viscous streams. Flies buzzed in the room, and Arthur heard Marc panting softly and quickly beside him. He wondered how Marc could breathe at all in the poisonous atmosphere.
A breeze blew in through an open window, and Arthur, who had been holding his breath all this time, finally let it out. The air he breathed in was sweet and pure, and there was no boy or sofa in the living room at all. Just the vintage loveseat and the naugahyde recliner.
Arthur turned and pulled Marc into his arms. As the horror of the apparition began to fade, he felt not the usual exultation, but sick, treacherous worry. Marc's skin was cold and damp with sweat. He never should have let him come along. "Are you all right?" Arthur whispered. "It's all over. Are you OK?"
Marc's arms tightened around him in turn. He said something that Arthur couldn't understand. "What?"
"Are you going to try to tell me that wasn't a ghost?"
"No." Arthur laughed softly with the sudden release. "Oh no, I'm not going to tell you anything."
"Ha." Marc's voice was still breathy with emotion. He hugged Arthur until his bruised ribs ached. "Oh man," Marc said at last. "Oh man, it's real. Shit. It's real and I saw it with my own eyes." His mouth covered Arthur's and he kissed him with happy fervor. Arthur pulled his head away. A terrible realization had just dawned.
"We didn't have the cameras turned on."
"You fell asleep right after dinner," Marc said. "I'm sorry. I wasn't sure how to set the timers. I'm sorry." He sounded like a frightened child.
Arthur rested his forehead against Marc's. "It's my fault. There'll be other nights." He paused, suddenly worried that he was taking too much for granted. "If you want to stay, I mean. I'd understand if you don't--"
"Are you kidding?" Marc laughed softly in the darkness. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
Marc came out of the bedroom and struck a pose. "Well, what do you think?"
Arthur glanced up and realized that he had never seen Marc in a suit and tie before. It made him look very young and very serious. Arthur smiled. "You're adorable."
Marc raised an eyebrow. "What I meant is, do I look like someone you'd want to hire?"
"In a cold minute."
"As a file clerk?"
"That's what you're interviewing for?"
"Uh-huh. I told Lil I was job hunting and she got me an interview at her office. I know it's not quite as glamorous as ghosthunting with you, but the pay's a lot better."
"Lil doesn't mind the idea of you pestering her at work all summer? How nice of her. Well, you look like a very responsible young man."
Marc shuddered. "You really know how to hurt a guy."
"You did ask."
"I wanted to borrow a good black leather belt from you, but I couldn't find one in your stuff out here. Do you mind if I stop by the condo and pick one up?"
"Of course not. Go ahead."
Marc fit a thumb under his waistband. "I just hope your belts will still go around my waist. I've gotta start working out again or I'll turn into a little blonde marshmallow. Especially if I get this job."
Marc checked to see that he had his wallet and keys, then peered into the mirror hanging by the door to be sure his hair was all right. "I can see it now. By the end of the summer I'll be a stoop-shouldered blob with permanent ink stains on my fingers and a near-sighted squint from long hours in dark filing rooms--"
"If you don't want the job, why are you interviewing for it?"
"Like you said. How can I pass up a chance to bug Lil all summer? I'll be back this afternoon. Watch out for Jesse while I'm gone."
Marc slammed the door on his way out with his usual cheerfully unnecessary noise and bluster. Arthur got up and poured himself another cup of coffee. He felt good, even though neither he or Marc had gotten much sleep after seeing the apparition in the living room. They had sat up most of the rest of the night, first separately recording their impressions of what they had seen, and then talking about it until the first, gray light of morning began to creep in past the blinds. Lil would be sorry to have missed such an impressive materialization. And she'd probably want to kill them for having forgotten the camera.
She called him on her lunch break.
"Arthur, your handsome young man told me an incredible story this morning."
"How did his interview go?"
"Oh, I'm sure he got the job if he wants it. He can count to ten and seems to know the alphabet. I even went out on a limb and vouched for his good character. That's not what I'm calling about. He says Jesse showed up last night."
"It was quite a show. You'd have been proud of Marc. He held up great. Better than I did."
"Well, good." Lil said, deceptively pleasant. "I'm glad to hear it. Marc also mentioned that none of the recording equipment was on."
"I'm afraid he's right."
"No camera? Tape recorder? Thermograph? Magnetometer? Nothing at all?"
"No. I'm sorry, Lil."
"A full-blown retrocognitive materialization, and we don't have anything but your anecdotal evidence for it? Damnit, Arthur, that's simply cruel."
"I know. I really am sorry. I was exhausted after driving back from Long Beach, and I went to bed without giving it a thought. I guess it's a mistake to try to follow up two cases at once."
Lil relented. "Well, it's not the end of the world. There may be other nights. What were you doing down in Long Beach?"
"I went to talk to Marty's old boyfriend Dave. That's where he's living now."
"Find out anything?"
Arthur told her about the Halloween party, then described his meeting with Brownley.
Lil sighed. "We're going to end up having to talk to everybody in that whole damn building, aren't we?"
"It's beginning to look that way."
"No rest for the weary. Let's get together some time this week and figure out where to go from here."
"When's a good night for you?"
She thought for a moment. "I may be able to get off work a little early this afternoon. Otherwise, I probably won't have time till Saturday."
"Either way is fine with me."
"I'll let you know. Give me a call if anything exciting comes up."
Marc came back late in the afternoon. His coat was draped over his shoulder and his tie was undone, and he was lugging a cardboard box. He had a funny smile on his face that instantly roused Arthur's suspicions. "How did it go?"
"Fine, I think. I tried not to embarrass Lil too badly."
"What's with the box?"
Marc's smile got broader. "You mean you don't recognize it?"
"I got it out of the back of your closet."
"What were you doing in the back of my closet?"
Arthur did recognize the box. It contained the remnants of an old relationship, doomed and ridiculous, but wonderful while it lasted. Arthur had fallen in love with Patrick more than ten years ago, just about the time he was first beginning to understand that what he wanted more than anything else in the world was one man to share his life with. Patrick had just ended a three-year relationship and was embarked on a gleeful rejection of monogamy. The whole affair would have been laughable if either he or Arthur had been in any position to laugh about it. They had managed to lurch along together for perhaps six months. Arthur didn't remember now who had finally left whom, though since he had ended up with the memorabilia, he supposed Patrick had dumped him.
Marc had set the box down on the floor and was cheerfully pulling out books and magazines. He was so young and happy and alive that Arthur's momentary flash of anger melted away.
"Look at this stuff! Back issues of Drummer, Malebox, Inches--all these great old Tom of Finland comics--Raunchy Truckers, Pants Down, Sailor--and here's my personal favorite, Our Boys in Blue." He threw the book down on the coffee table in front of Arthur. The lovingly-detailed pencil drawing on the cover depicted two policemen whose generous endowments strained the seams of their pants. They were genially menacing a handcuffed prisoner whose own basket suggested that he was not entirely displeased with his predicament.
"And you rolled your eyes at me that time when I bought Beauty's Punishment at the mall bookstore."
"I didn't roll my eyes at you."
"Well, you gave me a pretty damn superior look. And the rest of this stuff. Travis, John Preston, Larry Townsend--" Marc flipped through one of the dog-eared paperbacks, grinning. "You know, if you've been harboring an unfulfilled desire to have sex with clothespins on your tits, all you had to do was tell me--and this--" He produced a broad leather collar with rings and clasps on the back and sides. "I suppose you'll say you used to have a dog. And I guess these were just a fashion statement?"
He pulled out two leather bracelets which matched the collar, both with hooks and clasps. "Okay, I missed the seventies. Maybe these were all the rage in the discos, but I don't remember seeing John Travolta in anything quite like this."
"They belonged to an old boyfriend. This was all years ago."
"Are you blushing?" Marc patted his cheek. "I think I'd like to hear more about this old boyfriend. Now how does this work?"
Batting Arthur's hands away, he wrapped the collar around Arthur's neck and buckled it from behind. The leather was stiff with age and smelled very faintly of mildew.
"Now we're getting somewhere." He hooked his index finger through one of the rings in the collar and pulled Arthur to his feet. "I think I just figured out what that hideous brass bed is good for. Come along. Resistance is useless."
Arthur allowed himself to be pulled back to the bedroom. Marc pushed him down against the headboard and fastened the back of the collar to one of the perpendicular bars on the brass bedstead.
"There we go. Now give me your wrist."
"I'm too old for this," Arthur protested.
"I'll be the judge of that," Marc told him cheerfully. He buckled the first leather cuff around Arthur's wrist and snapped the clasp to the top of the brass bar. "What fun." He cuffed Arthur's other wrist and leaned back to admire the result. Arthur sat with his back against the headboard, his arms spread wide by the restraints. The collar around his neck forced him to hold his chin up.
Marc kissed his cheek. "You look good enough to eat." He sat back and regarded Arthur seriously, dropping the act for a moment. "You are OK now, aren't you? I mean, this doesn't hurt you, does it?"
"Only my pride."
A grin broke across Marc's face. "But that's exactly the point." He straddled Arthur's thighs and began unbuttoning his shirt. "Now I want to hear all about this old boyfriend. Was this someone you met out here? Don't tell me it was that good ole boy of yours back in Georgia."
"That's absolutely none of your business."
Marc undid the last button on Arthur's shirt and tugged his shirt tails out of his pants. "I'm making it my business." He paused to kiss the round bruise under Arthur's sternum. Then he tried to pull Arthur's shirt the rest of the way off, but found himself stymied by his shackled wrists. "Wait a minute. How do you get the sleeves off over the cuffs?"
"You're supposed to take the shirt off first, Einstein."
Marc flicked his finger against Arthur's chin. "I should just rip it off your back."
"Don't even think about it."
"Then I'd suggest you adopt a more humble attitude."
He ran his fingertips along Arthur's ribs, making him laugh and gasp. "Stop it, Marc. Damnit, that tickles."
"I'm just getting started on you." He bent forward to nibble on Arthur's ear lobe.
"My fingers are going to sleep."
"Mine aren't," Marc licked his own fingers and drew light, damp traceries across Arthur's chest. He caught one of Arthur's flat nipples between his thumb and forefinger and pinched it until he made him wince. Then he kissed Arthur's lips gently in mute apology. After a moment, his kiss became more insistent. He pressed his mouth down hard and pushed his tongue past Arthur's teeth. Still holding him with the kiss, Marc unbuttoned Arthur's trousers and yanked them down over his hips. When he ran his hand up the open leg of his briefs, Arthur jumped a little, and their teeth knocked together.
Marc pulled away. "Ow. Watch it."
"Sorry." Arthur heard the catch in his voice. He tried to reach Marc's lips again, but Marc moved back out of his range, smiling wickedly.
"Now about this old boyfriend of yours. Did you tie him up? No, I know you better than that. I'm sure it was the other way around."
"I'm not talking about this, love."
"And just how far did you go? I didn't find any whips or nipple clamps in your box of goodies. Maybe this old friend took them with him as a memento of happy times."
"I would really suggest you be a little more cooperative. After all, it would be such a shame if I suddenly decided to get up and drive back to campus."
The old leather of the collar was beginning to chafe the scratches on Arthur's neck. "That's not funny."
"Why don't you start by calling me 'sir'?"
"I don't think so."
"That's your head talking, not your dick." Marc ran his thumbnail lightly down the length of Arthur's torso, just as someone knocked at the front door.
Both of them started, but then Marc grinned and got up. "Why, there's someone at the door."
Arthur pulled at his restraints. "Oh no. Don't leave me like this."
"Don't worry. I'll get rid of them. They'll never know you're languishing here in the bedroom."
"I'm serious. It might be Lil."
"Well, Lil's cool. She'll probably be glad to see you're learning a little discipline."
"Then I'll ask him to join us. I'm sure he'd be delighted." Marc wagged his finger in Arthur's face. "Don't think I haven't noticed the way you two have been flirting."
"Too late for that."
With a devastating smile, Marc pulled the french doors shut between them.
Arthur heard the front door open, then voices talking. The discussion went on for an uncomfortably long period of time. Arthur pulled at the cuffs. Damn Marc.
Footsteps crossed the floor. The bedroom doors opened slightly and Marc edged his way in, shutting the doors carefully behind him.
"What's going on?"
Marc looked abashed. "You'll never believe it. It's the night watchman from Teague's old building. He says he remembers who gave Marty a ride home after the Halloween party last year, and he has to talk to you about it."
Arthur pulled on the cuffs as though that would help Marc go faster. "Get me down from here."
"I'm trying. Don't worry. I told him you were in the shower."
The leather was stiff, and Marc was having difficulty working it back through the buckle. "Damnit, I'm sorry Arthur. These things don't come off as easy as they go on."
The french doors suddenly swung open with a flutter of white curtains, and Brownley walked in on them.
"Marc--" Arthur groaned, mortified.
Marc turned. "Oh no. Look, man, do you mind waiting outside for just a goddamned minute?"
Brownley had a black box in one hand. He stood blinking owlishly at Marc and Arthur until Marc, exasperated, took a step towards him. Then Brownley touched the two wires trailing from the box against Marc's chest.
The force of the electric charge froze Marc in place, locked rigid while the stink of burned cotton and singed flesh began to fill the bedroom. When Brownley pulled the wires away, Marc flopped backwards to the floor. His eyes were open, but they stared unseeing at the ceiling. He'd bitten his tongue in the violence of the first, convulsive shock, and a slow trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth.
Arthur didn't have breath enough to scream. He jerked against his restraints again and again, making the old brass bed creak with his struggles, while Brownley pulled a small leather instrument case from his vest pocket. He came to the foot of the bed, untied the fasteners and rolled it open.
Arthur stopped struggling and watched with horrified fascination as Brownley picked through the thin, shiny instruments in his case. The leather on the case was brown and cracking with age. Arthur whispered, "You're Teller Waite."
"Yes, I am," Brownley agreed. He knelt on the floor beside Marc, straightening his twisted limbs and tilting his head back.
"Oh, please," Arthur begged, still whispering. It was the only way he could control his voice enough to keep from shrieking. "Please don't do this."
Brownley said kindly, "He won't remember anything about it. Neither will you."
"Marc doesn't need your treatment."
"Well, normally I would agree with you. In spite of certain--well, obvious leanings, I can see he's no particular burden either to his family or to society at large. That's one advantage, I suppose, to this more liberal age we're living in."
"Why are you doing this?" Arthur pleaded, as though rational arguments could reach the man.
Brownley looked up at him.
"I do valuable work for hurting, desperate people. I can't let you or your friends stop me now. Not after so many years."
"Marty's dead," Arthur said. "Morgan's in a mental ward. Is that how you helped them?"
Brownley selected a leucotome from his instrument case. "You're not a trained therapist. I wouldn't expect you to understand how desperately unhappy Marty used to be. She would talk to me in the mornings on her way up to the office. She wasn't a very talented painter, you know. I was able to relieve her of the torment of being a mediocre artist."
"But she's dead now." Arthur's voice had escaped his control, rising into a hoarse shout.
"And look at yourself," Brownley went on calmly. "You're an educated man. I'm sure you don't need me to elucidate the veritable swamp of neuroses that drives you to find satisfaction in this kind of ritualized sex play. I'll be able to relieve you of these unhealthy compulsions."
"You sound like Morgan Teague."
Brownley laughed dryly. "I probably sound more like the mad scientist in an old horror movie."
He bent forward over Marc and covered his nose and mouth with a square of clean white linen. "Now if you'll excuse me, the effects of electroconvulsive shock are limited."
He pulled Marc's chin up, and Arthur shouted in desperation, his every rational argument exhausted, "That building is haunted because of you. I've seen the ghosts of all the minds you mutilated. I've felt their pain myself."
Without looking up, Brownley said mildly, "Of course. I've felt them too. Why do you think I stayed in that building for so many years? Their torment reassured me of the importance of my work. The people I treated left their agony behind after my operation, and continued on their way with minds that were as placid and undisturbed as mountain pools."
Neither he nor Arthur heard Lil until she came around one of the french doors.
"It's called a camera," she was saying, and she carried one of the video cameras in her hand. "It's an expensive piece of equipment that doesn't do a whole lot a good if you don't bother to turn it on."
She saw Arthur on the bed and blushed pink. "Oh no. Arthur, I'm so sorry. The door was open--" She started to back up, not having seen Brownley and Marc on the floor.
"Lil!" Arthur shouted. "Lil!"
Brownley got to his feet and reached for the black box on the foot of the bed. The leucotome glinted in his other hand.
Lil braced herself and swung the video camera up in a hard, tight arc. It knocked the leucotome out of Brownley's hand and then smashed into his chin. He staggered back, and Lil hit him again, hard enough to knock him off his feet and crack the casing of the camera. His head struck the foot of the bedstead and he crumpled. Lil stood over him for a moment, clutching the remains of the video camera and breathing hard. When he didn't move, she dropped the camera, bent down, and wrapped both her hands in the collar of his shirt. She dragged him a short distance into the bathroom, shut the door and propped a chair under the door knob.
She came back and knelt beside Marc. She had somehow managed to preserve a veneer of calm, but her eyes were huge, and she couldn't get her breathing under control. She was still panting as though she'd run a race.
Marc was slowly waking up. "Hi Lil," he said softly. "What are you doing here?"
She patted his face. "Just lie still for a minute."
Arthur was slumped against the bedstead, drenched in sweat and weak with relief. Lil began unbuckling the cuffs. "It was Brownley?" she asked, her voice thin and astonished. "Brownley?"
"He's Teller Waite."
Lil glanced over her shoulder at the barricaded bathroom door. "Oh. Oh, sweet heavens." When Arthur was free she said, "I think I'd better call the police now."
Arthur nodded. He crawled down to Marc's side and pulled him into his arms.
Marc looked up at him and smiled a little. "Hey. What's going on?"
Arthur held him as tight as he could. "I'll explain it later, baby. But I've been meaning to ask you something."
Marc blinked at him, confused. "What is it?"
"Do you want to come to Georgia with me?
Marc, Arthur, Lil and the rest return in Breeders, my second and equally (ahem) successful attempt to write a salable novel.
Thanks for reading!