The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove Chapter 21
Gabe and Theo
“This is where I found the aberrant rats,” Gabe said as they pulled into the
Fly Rod Trailer Court.
“That’s nice,” Theo said, not really paying attention.
“Did I tell you I got the brain chemistry back from Stanford? It’s interesting, but I’m not sure that it explains the behavior.”
“Not now, Gabe, please.” Theo slammed on the brakes and the truck rocked to a stop. “What the hell?” There were no lights on in Molly Michon’s trailer. In the empty lot next door, a dozen well-dressed adults stood in a circle, holding candles.
“Prayer meeting?” Gabe ventured. “It’s Sunday night.”
“There was a trailer there last time I was here,” Theo said. “Just like the one on the ranch.”
“I know. This is the lot where I found the rats with the low serotonin levels.”
Theo shut off the truck, set the parking brake, and climbed out. Then he looked back at Gabe. “You found your rats right here?”
“The six that I could find. But this is where the other ones that were last tracked disappeared as well. I can show you the graphic later.”
“That would be good.”
Theo pulled his flannel shirt over the guns in his waistband and approached the circle. Skinner jumped out of the truck and ran ahead. Gabe reluctantly followed. They did, indeed, seem to be praying. Their heads were bowed and a woman in a powder-blue dress and pillbox hat was leading the group. “Bless us, Lord, for we have felt the stirrings of your power within us and heeded your call to come to this holy place on the eve of…”
Skinner drove his nose into the woman’s crotch, and she yipped like a bee-stung poodle. Everyone in the group looked up.
“Excuse me,” Theo said. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but what are you all doing here?” Several of the men looked irritated and stepped up behind the powder-blue woman to give support.
The woman held Skinner’s nose away from her dress while trying to keep the candle flame away from her hair spray. “Constable Crowe? Is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Theo said. The woman was younger than he was by at least five years and pretty in a Texas Big Hair sort of way, but her dress and manner of speaking made him feel as if he’d just been busted by his first-grade teacher for eating paste.
“We’ve been called here, Constable,” the woman explained. She reached behind her, grabbed the shoulder of a woman who looked like her clone in pink, and pulled her forward. Skinner stamped the pink woman’s dress with the Wet-Nose Inspection Seal. “Margie and I felt it first, but when we started talking about it after services this afternoon, all these other people said that they had felt drawn to this place as well. The Holy Spirit has moved us here.”
“Ask them if they’ve seen any rats.” Gabe said.
“Call your dog,” Theo tossed over his shoulder.
Gabe called Skinner and the Labrador looked around.
They smell fine to me, Food Guy. I say fuck ’em, Skinner thought. But he got no response except a minor scolding.
“The Holy Spirit called you here?” Theo said.
Everyone in the group nodded earnestly.
“Did any of you happen to see the woman who lives in that trailer next door?”
The pink lady chimed in, “Oh yes, she was the one to call our attention to this place two nights ago. We wondered about that at first, being as how she is and all, but then Katie pointed out” – she gestured to her friend – “that our Lord Jesus spent time with Mary Magdalene, and she, as I’m sure you know, was – well – she was…”
“A whore,” Theo offered.
“Well. Yes. And so we thought, who are we to judge?”
“Very charitable of you,” Theo said. “But have you seen Molly Michon tonight?”
“No, not tonight.”
Theo felt his energy reserves drain even more. “Look, folks, you shouldn’t be here. I’m not sure it’s safe. Some people have gone missing…”
“Oh, that poor boy,” Margie said.
“Yes and maybe some others. I have to ask you all to take your meeting somewhere else, please.”
The group looked disappointed. One of the men, a portly bald fellow in his fifties, puffed himself up and stepped forward. “Constable, we have the right to worship when and where we please.”
“I’m just thinking of your safety,” Theo said.
“This country was founded on the basis of religious freedom, and…”
Theo stepped up to the man and loomed over him with all of his six-footsix frame, “Then start praying that I don’t throw you in jail with the biggest, horniest sodomite the country jail has to offer, which is what I’m going to do if you all don’t go home right now.”
“Smooth,” Gabe said.
Make him roll over and pee on himself, Skinner thought.
The bald man made a harumph sound and turned to the group. “Let’s meet at the church to discuss the removal of our local law enforcement official.”
“Yeah, get in line,” Theo said. He watched as the group dispersed to their cars and drove away.
When the last one pulled out, Gabe said, “Theories?”
Theo shook his head. “Everyone in this town is nuts. I’m going to check Molly’s trailer, but I doubt she’s there. Do you want me to take you home to shower and change clothes before your date?”
Gabe looked down at his stained work pants and safari shirt. “Do you think I should?”
“Gabe, you’re the only guy I know that makes me look suave.”
“You’re coming along, right?”
“Casanova,” Theo said. “Compared to you, I feel like Casanova.”
“What?” Gabe said. “It’s fried chicken night at H.P.’s.”
Steve lay under a stand of cypress trees, his new lover snuggled up to his right foreleg, snoring softly. He let his tongue slide out and the tip just brushed her bare back. She moaned and nuzzled closer to his leg. She tasted pretty good. But he had eaten all those other warmbloods and he wasn’t really hungry.
When he had been a female, some fifty years ago, and going back another five thousand, he had become accustomed to eating his lovers after mating. That’s just how it was done. But as a male, he wasn’t sure. He hadn’t mated with his own species since he’d become male, and so the instinct to become passive after mating was new to him. He just didn’t feel like eating the warmblood. She had made him feel better, and for some reason, he could see the pictures of her thoughts instead of just sending his own sig-nals. He sensed no fear in her, and no need to send the signal to draw her to him. Strange for a warmblood.
He lay his head down on the bed of cypress needles to sleep and let his wounds heal. He could eat her later. Somewhere in the back of his brain, as he fell asleep, a fear alarm went off. In five thousand years of life, he had never conceived of the concept of later or before, only now. His DNA had rechained itself many times, adapted to changes without waiting for the life cycles of generations – he was a unique organism in that way – but the concept of time, of memory beyond the cellular level, was a new adapt-ation. Through his contact with Molly he was evolving consciousness, and like the pragmatic mechanism that it is, nature was trying to warn him. The nightmare was about to have a nightmare.
Is this a date? Val sat alone at a table in the back of H.P.’s Cafe. She’d ordered a glass of a local chardonnay and was trying to form an opinion about it that would reflect the appropriate disgust, but unfortunately, it was quite good. She was wearing light evening makeup and an understated raw silk suit in indigo with a single string of pearls so as not to clash too badly with her date, who she knew would be in jeans or cotton khaki. Her date? If this is a date, how far have I sunk? she asked herself. This tacky little cafe in this tacky little town, waiting for a man who had probably never worn a tux or a Rolex, and she was looking forward to it.
No, it’s not a date. It’s just dinner. It’s sustenance. It’s, for once, not eating alone. Slumming in the land of the folksy and the neighborly, that’s what it is. It’s a satirical performance art experience; call it The Bourgeois Fried Chicken Follies. It was one thing to read her journals over coffee in the local cafe, but dinner?
Gabe Fenton came through the front door and Val felt her pulse quicken. She smiled in spite of herself as she watched the waitress point to her table. Then Theo Crowe was following Gabe across the restaurant and a bolt of anxiety shot up her spine. This definitely isn’t a date.
Gabe smiled and the lines around his eyes crinkled as if he were about to burst out laughing. He extended his hand to her. “Hi, I hope you don’t mind, I asked Theo to join us.” His hair was combed, as was his beard, and he was wearing a faded but clean chambray shirt. Not exactly dashing, but a pretty good-looking guy in a lumber-jack sort of way.
“No, please,” Val said. “Sit down, Theo.”
Theo nodded and pulled a chair up to the table, which had been set for two. The waitress breezed in with another place setting before they were seated. “I’m sorry to intrude,” Theo said, “but Gabe insisted.”
“No, really, you’re welcome, Constable.”
“Theo then,” Val said. She forced a smile. What now? The last time she had talked to this man it had thrown her life for a loop. She found herself building a resentment for Gabe that was usually reserved for relationships that were years old.
Theo cleared his throat. “Uh, can we go on the doctor-patient confidentiality plan again, Doctor?”
Val nodded to Gabe, “That usually implies a session. Not dinner.”
“Okay, then, don’t say anything, but Joseph Leander killed his wife.”
Val didn’t say, “Wow.” Almost, but she didn’t. “And you know this because…”
“Because he told me so,” Theo said. “He gave her tea made from foxglove. Evidently, it can cause heart failure and is almost undetectable. Then he hung her in the dining room.”
“So you’ve arrested him?”
“No, I don’t know where he is.”
“But you’ve put a warrant out for his arrest or whatever it is that you do?
“No, I’m not sure that I’m still the constable.”
Gabe broke in. “We’ve been talking about it, Val. I say that Theo is an elected official, and therefore the only way he can lose his job is through impeachment, even if his immediate superior tries to kill him. What do you think?”
“Smooth,” Theo said, grinning at Gabe.
“Oh, maybe you should tell her about the crank lab and stuff, Theo.”
And so Theo explained, telling the story of his kidnapping, the drug lab, Joseph Leander’s disappearance, and Molly Michon setting him free, but leaving out any theories he had about a giant creature. During the telling, they ordered (fried chicken for Theo and Gabe, a Greek salad for Val) and were halfway through dinner before Theo stopped talking.
Val stared at her salad and silence washed over the table. If there was going to be a murder investigation, she could be found out. And if they found out what she had done to her patients, her career was over. She might even go to jail. It wasn’t fair, she really had tried to do the right thing for once. She resisted the urge to blurt out a confession – to throw herself on the mercy of a court born of sheer paranoia. Instead she raised her eyes to Gabe, who took the signal to break the silence.
Gabe said, “And I still don’t know the significance of the low serotonin levels in the rats’ brains.”
“Huh?” said not only Val and Theo, but the waitress, Jenny, who had been eavesdropping from the next table and joined the confusion at Gabe’s non sequitur.
“Sorry,” Gabe said to Val. “I thought you might have a take on the brain chemistry of those rats I had tested. You said you were interested.”
“And I am,” Val said, lying through her teeth, “but I’m a little overwhelmed by the news about Bess Leander.”
“Right, anyway, the group of rats that didn’t take part in the mass migration all had unusually low levels of serotonin. The brain chemistry of the larger group, the group that ran, was all in normal ranges. So I’m thinking that…”
“They were depressed,” Val said.
“Pardon me?” Gabe said.
“Of course they’re depressed, they’re rats,” Theo said.
Gabe glared at him.
“Well, imagine waking up to that every morning,” Theo continued. “‘Oh, it’s a great day, crap, I’m still a rat. Never mind.'”
“Well, I don’t know about rats,” Val said, “but serotonin levels in humans affect a lot of different things, predominantly mood. Low levels of serotonin can indicate depression. That’s how Prozac works. It basically keeps sero-tonin in the brain to keep the patient from getting depressed. So maybe Gabe’s rats were too depressed to run.”
Gabe stroked his beard. “I never thought of that. But it doesn’t help that much. It doesn’t tell me why the majority of the rats did run.”
“Well, duh, Gabe,” Theo said. “It’s the fucking monster.”
“What?” Val said.
“What?” said Jenny, who was lingering nearby.
“Can we get some dessert menus?” Gabe asked, sending Jenny backing across the restaurant.
“Monster?” Val said.
“Maybe you’d better explain, Gabe,” Theo said. “I think your scientific skepticism will make it sound more credible.”
Val’s jaw dropped visibly as she listened to Gabe talk about the tracks at the ranch, the mutilated cattle, and Theo’s theory for the disappearances of Joseph Leander, Mikey Plotznik, and perhaps Les from the hardware store. When Gabe brought up Molly Michon, Val stopped him.
“You can’t believe what she tells you. Molly is a very disturbed woman.”
“She didn’t tell me anything,” Theo said. “I just think she knows something about all this.”
Val wanted to call up Theo’s drug history to sweep the story aside, then she remembered what Estelle Boyet had told her in therapy. “I’m not going to say who, but one of my patients mentioned a sea monster in session.”
Gabe asked. “Who?”
“I can’t say,” Val said.
“Estelle Boyet,” Jenny said as she came up to get the dessert order.
“Damn,” Val said. “I wasn’t the one who told you,” she said to Theo.
“Well, she was talking about it over breakfast with that Catfish guy,” Jenny added.
“No dessert,” Val snapped at Jenny.
“I’ll bring the check.”
“So Estelle has seen it?” Theo asked.
“No, she says she’s heard it. She’s not the type to propagate a hoax, but I wouldn’t put it past Molly Michon. Perhaps that’s where the rumor started. I can ask Estelle.”
“Do that,” Theo said. “But it’s not a hoax. My car is smashed. That’s evidence. I’m going to Molly’s tonight and wait for her. The door was unlocked when I checked earlier and I can’t go home.”
“You think it’s that dangerous?” Val asked.
“I know it is.” Theo stood and started to pull some bills from his pocket. Gabe waved him off. Theo said, “Doctor, can you give Gabe a ride?”
“Thanks,” Theo said. “I’ll call you, Gabe. Thanks for letting me join you, Doctor. I thought you’d want to know about Bess. I’m afraid I’ve ruined your date.”
I’ll say, Val thought as she watched Theo leave the restaurant. A sense of alert exhaustion washed over her like an espresso fog bank.
“He just quit smoking pot,” Gabe said. “He’s feeling the stress.”
“He has a right to. You don’t believe any of that stuff about a monster, do you?”
“I have some theories.”
“Would you like to come up to the house and explain them over a bottle of wine?”
“Really? I mean, sure, that would be nice.”
“Good,” Val said. “I think I need to get hammered and I’d like your company.” Had she used the term “hammered” since college? She didn’t think so.
“I’ll get the check,” Gabe said.
“Of course you will.”
“I hope you don’t mind having a dog in your car,” Gabe said.
I’m not slumming, she thought. I’ve moved to the slums.