Wednesday, January 15, 2020
The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove Chapter 14~15
Fourteen Molly Pine Cove was a decorative town Ã¢â¬â built for show Ã¢â¬â only one degree more functional than a Disneyland attraction and decidedly lacking in businesses and services that catered to residents rather than tourists. The business district included ten art galleries, five wine-tasting rooms, twenty restaur-ants, eleven gift and card shops, and one hardware store. The position of hardware clerk in Pine Cove was highly coveted by the town's retired male population, for nowhere else could a man posture well past his prime, pontificate, and generally indulge in the arrogant self-important chest-pounding of an alpha male without having a woman intercede to remind him that he was patently full of shit. Crossing the threshold of Pine Cove Hardware and breaking the beam that rang the bell was tantamount to setting off a testosterone alarm, and if they'd had their way, the clerks would have constructed a device to at-omize the corners with urine every time the bell tolled. Or at least that's the way it seemed to Molly when she entered that Saturday morning. The clerks, three men, broke from their heated argument on the finer points of installing a wax toilet seal ring to stare, snicker, and make snide comments under their breath about the woman who had entered their domain. Molly breezed past the counter, focusing on an aisle display of gopher poison to avoid eye contact. Raucous laughter erupted from the clerks when she turned down the aisle for roofing supplies. The clerks, Frank, Bert, and Les Ã¢â¬â all semiretired, balding, paunchy, and generally interchangeable, except that Frank wore a belt to hold up his double knits, while the other two sported suspenders fashioned to look like yellow measuring tape Ã¢â¬â planned to make Molly beg. Oh, they'd let her wander around for a while, let her try to comprehend the arcane func-tion of the gizmos, geegaws, and widgets binned and bubble-wrapped around the store. Then she would have to come back to the counter and submit. It was Frank's turn to do the condescending, and he would do his best to drop-kick her ego before finally leading the little lady to the appro-priate product, where he would continue to question her into full humili-ation. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, is it a sheet metal screw or a wood screw? Three-eighths or seven-sixteenths? Do you have a hex head screwdriver? Well, then, you'll need one, won't you? Are you sure you wouldn't rather just call someone to do this for you?Ã¢â¬ Tears and/ or sniffles from the customer would signal victory and confirm superior status for the male race. Frank, Bert, and Les watched Molly on the security monitor, exchanged some comments about her breasts, laughed nervously after five minutes passed without her surrender, and tried to look busy when she emerged from the aisle carrying a five-gallon can of roof-patching tar, a roll of fiberglass fabric, and a long-handled squeegee. Molly stood at the counter, shifting her weight from foot to foot. Bert and Les squinted into a catalog set on a rotating stand while concentrating on sucking in their guts. Frank manned the register and pretended he was doing something complex on the keyboard, when, in fact, he was just making it beep. Molly cleared her throat. Frank looked up as if he'd just noticed she was there. Ã¢â¬Å"Find everything you need?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I think so,Ã¢â¬ Molly said, taking both hands to lift the heavy can of tar onto the counter. Ã¢â¬Å"You need some resin for that fiberglass fabric?Ã¢â¬ Les said. Ã¢â¬Å"And some hardener?Ã¢â¬ Bert said. Frank snickered. Ã¢â¬Å"Some what?Ã¢â¬ Molly said. Ã¢â¬Å"You can't patch a trailer roof with that stuff, miss. You live down at the Fly Rod, don't you?Ã¢â¬ They all knew who she was and where she lived. She was often the subject of hardware store gossip and speculation, even though she'd never set foot in there before today. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm not going to patch a roof.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, you can't use that on a driveway. You need asphalt sealer, and it should be applied with a brush, not a squeegee.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"How much do I owe you?Ã¢â¬ Molly said. Ã¢â¬Å"You should wear a respirator when you work with fiberglass. You have one at home, right?Ã¢â¬ Bert asked. Ã¢â¬Å"Yeah, right next to the elves and the gnomes,Ã¢â¬ Les said. Molly didn't flinch. Ã¢â¬Å"He's right,Ã¢â¬ Frank said. Ã¢â¬Å"Those fibers get down in your lungs and they could do you a world of harm, especially with those lungs.Ã¢â¬ The clerks all laughed at the joke. Ã¢â¬Å"I've got a respirator out in the truck,Ã¢â¬ Les said. Ã¢â¬Å"I could come by after work and give you a hand with your little project.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That would be great,Ã¢â¬ Molly said. Ã¢â¬Å"What time?Ã¢â¬ Les balked. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, I, umÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'll pick up some beer.Ã¢â¬ Molly smiled. Ã¢â¬Å"You guys should come along too. I could really use the help.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, I think Les can handle it, can't you, Les?Ã¢â¬ Frank said as he hit the total key. Ã¢â¬Å"That comes to thirty-seven sixty-five with tax.Ã¢â¬ Molly counted her money out on the counter. Ã¢â¬Å"So I'll see you tonight?Ã¢â¬ Les swallowed hard and forced a smile. Ã¢â¬Å"You bet,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"Thanks then,Ã¢â¬ Molly said brightly. Then she picked up her supplies and headed for the door. As she broke the doorbell beam, Frank whispered Ã¢â¬Å"Crazy slutÃ¢â¬ under his breath. Molly stopped, turned slowly, and winked. Once she was outside, the clerks made miserable old white guy attempts at trading high-fives while patting Les on the back. It was a hardware store fantasy fulfilled Ã¢â¬â much better than just humiliating a woman, Les would get to humiliate her and get her naked as well. For some reason they'd all been feeling a little randy lately, thinking about sex almost as often as power tools. Ã¢â¬Å"My wife is going to kill me,Ã¢â¬ Les said. Ã¢â¬Å"What she don't know won't hurt her,Ã¢â¬ the other two said in unison. Theo Theo actually felt his stomach lurch when he went into his victory garden and clipped a handful of sticky buds from his pot plants. They weren't for himself this time, but the reminder of how much this little patch of plants ruled his life made him ill. And how was it that he hadn't felt the need to fire up his Sneaky Pete for three days? A twenty-year drug habit suddenly ends? No withdrawal, no side effects, no cravings? The freedom was almost nauseating. It was as if the Weirdness Fairy had landed in his life with a thump, popped him on the head with a rubber chicken, bit him on the shin, then went off to inflict herself on the rest of Pine Cove. He stuffed the marijuana into a plastic bag, tucked it into his jacket pocket, and climbed into the Volvo for the forty-mile drive to San Junipero. He was going to have to enter the bowels of the county justice building and face the Spider to find out what he wanted to know. The pot was grease for the Spider. He would stop by a convenience store on the way down and pick up a bag full of snacks to augment the bribe. The Spider was difficult, arrogant, and downright creepy, but he was a cheap date. Through the safety-glass window, Theo could see the Spider sitting in the middle of his web: five computer screens with data scrolling across them illuminated the Spider with an ominous blue glow. The only other light in the room came from tiny red and green power indicator lights that shone through the darkness like crippled stars. Without looking away from his screens, the Spider buzzed Theo in. Ã¢â¬Å"Crowe,Ã¢â¬ the Spider said, not looking up. Ã¢â¬Å"Lieutenant,Ã¢â¬ Theo said. Ã¢â¬Å"Call me Nailgun,Ã¢â¬ the Spider said. His name was Irving Nailsworth and his official position in the San Juni-pero Sheriff's Department was chief technical officer. He was five-foot-five inches tall, weighed three hundred and thirty pounds, and had taken to wearing a black beret when he perched in his web. Early on, Nailsworth had seen that nerds would rule the world, and he had staked out his own little information fiefdom in the basement of the county jail. Nothing happened without the Spider knowing about it. He monitored and con-trolled all the information that moved about the county, and before anyone recognized what sort of power that afforded, he had made himself indis-pensable to the system. He had never arrested a suspect, touched a firearm, or set foot in a patrol car, yet he was the third-highest-ranking officer on the force. Besides a taste for raw data, the Spider had weaknesses for junk food, Internet porn, and high-quality marijuana. The latter was Theo's key to the Spider's lair. He put the plastic Baggie on the keyboard in front of Nails-worth. Still without looking at Theo, the Spider opened the bag and sniffed, pinched a bud between his fingers, then folded the bag up and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. Ã¢â¬Å"Nice,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"What do you need?Ã¢â¬ He peeled the marshmallow cap off a Hostess Sno Ball, shoved it into his mouth, then threw the cake into a wastebasket at his feet. Theo set the bag of snacks down next to the wastebasket. Ã¢â¬Å"I need the autopsy report on Bess Leander.Ã¢â¬ The Nailgun nodded, no easy task for a man with no discernible neck. Ã¢â¬Å"And?Ã¢â¬ Theo wasn't sure what questions to ask. Nailsworth seldom volunteered information, you had to ask the right question. It was like talking to a rotund Sphinx. Ã¢â¬Å"I was wondering if you could come up with something that might help me find Mikey Plotznik.Ã¢â¬ Theo knew he didn't have to explain. The Spider would know all about the missing kid. The Spider reached into the bag at his feet and pulled out a Twinkie. Ã¢â¬Å"Let me pull up the autopsy.Ã¢â¬ His fat fingers flew over the keyboard. Ã¢â¬Å"You need a printout?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That would be nice.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It doesn't show you as the investigating officer.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That's why I came to you. The M.E.'s office wouldn't let me see the report.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Says here cause of death was cardiac arrest due to asphyxiation. Suicide.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes, she hung herself.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I don't think so.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I saw the body.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I know. Hanging in the dining room.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"So what do you mean, you don't think so? Ã¢â¬Å"The ligature marks on her neck were postmortem, according to this. Neck wasn't broken, so she didn't drop suddenly.Ã¢â¬ Theo squinted at the screen, trying to make sense of the data. Ã¢â¬Å"There were heel marks on the wall. She had to have hung herself. She was depressed, taking Zoloft for it.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Not according to the toxicology.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"They ran the toxicology for antidepressants because you put it on the report, but there was nothing.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It says suicide right there.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes, it does, but the date doesn't corroborate the timing. Looks like she had a heart attack. Then she hung herself afterward.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"So she was murdered?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You wanted to see the report. It says cardiac arrest. But ultimately, cardiac arrest is what kills everyone. Catch a bullet in the head, get hit by a car, eat some poison. The heart tends to stop.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Eat some poison?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Just an example, Crowe. It's not my field. If I were you, I'd check and see if she had a history of heart problems.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You said it wasn't your field.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's not.Ã¢â¬ The Spider hit a key and a laser printer whirred in the darkness somewhere. Ã¢â¬Å"I don't have much on the kid. I could give you the subscription list for his paper route.Ã¢â¬ Theo realized that he had gotten all he was going to get on Bess Leander. Ã¢â¬Å"I have that. How about giving me any known baby-rapers in the area?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That's easy.Ã¢â¬ The Spider's fingers danced over the keyboard. Ã¢â¬Å"You think the kid was snatched?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I don't know shit,Ã¢â¬ Theo said. The Spider said, Ã¢â¬Å"No known pedophiles in Pine Cove. You want the whole county?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Why not?Ã¢â¬ The laser printer whirred and the Spider pointed through the dark at the noise. Ã¢â¬Å"Everything you want is back there. That's all I can do for you.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Thanks, Nailgun, I appreciate it.Ã¢â¬ Theo felt a chronic case of the creeps going up his spine. He took a step into the dark and found the papers sitting in the tray of the laser printer. Then he stepped to the door. Ã¢â¬Å"You wanna buzz me out?Ã¢â¬ The Spider swiveled in his chair and looked at Theo for the first time. Theo could see his piggy eyes shining out of deep craters. Ã¢â¬Å"You still live in that cabin by the Beer Bar Ranch?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yep,Ã¢â¬ Theo said. Ã¢â¬Å"Eight years now.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Never been on the ranch, though, have you?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No.Ã¢â¬ Theo cringed. Could the Spider know about Sheriff Burton's hold over him? Ã¢â¬Å"Good,Ã¢â¬ the Spider said. Ã¢â¬Å"Stay out of there. And Theo?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yeah?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Sheriff Burton has been checking with me on everything that comes out of Pine Cove. After the Leander death and the truck blowing up, he got very jumpy. If you decide to pursue the Leander thing, stay low-key.Ã¢â¬ Theo was amazed. The Spider had actually volunteered information. Ã¢â¬Å"Why?Ã¢â¬ was all he could say. Ã¢â¬Å"I like the herb you bring me.Ã¢â¬ The Spider patted his shirt pocket. Theo smiled. Ã¢â¬Å"You won't tell Burton you gave me the autopsy report?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Why would I?Ã¢â¬ said the Spider. Ã¢â¬Å"Take care,Ã¢â¬ Theo said. The Spider turned back to his screens and buzzed the door. Molly Molly wasn't so sure that life as Pine Cove's Crazy Lady wasn't harder than being a Warrior Babe of the Outland. Things were pretty clear for a Warrior Babe: you ran around half-naked looking for food and fuel and occasionally kicked the snot out of some mutants. There was no subterfuge or rumor. You didn't have to guess whether or not the Sand Pirates ap-proved of your behavior. If they approved, they staked you out and tortured you. If they didn't they called you a bitch, then they staked you out and tortured you. They might release starving radioactive cockroaches on you or burn you with hot pokers, they might even gang-rape you (in foreign-release directors'cuts only), but you always knew where you stood with Sand Pirates. And they never tittered. Molly had had all the tittering she could handle for the day. At the pharmacy, they had tittered. Four elderly women worked the counter at Pine Cove Drug and Gift, while above them, behind his glass window, Winston Krauss, the dolphin-molesting pharmacist, lorded over them like a rooster over a barnyard full of hens. It didn't seem to matter to Winston that his four hens couldn't make change or answer the simplest question, nor that they would retreat to the back room when anyone younger than thirty entered the pharmacy, lest they have to sell something embarrassing like condoms. What mattered to Winston was that his hens worked for minimum wage and treated him like a god. He was behind glass; tittering didn't bother him. The hens started tittering when Molly hit the door and broke titter only when she came to the counter with an entire case of economy-sized Neosporin ointment. Ã¢â¬Å"Are you sure, dear?Ã¢â¬ they kept asking, refusing to take Molly's money. Ã¢â¬Å"Perhaps we should ask Winston. This seems like an awful lot.Ã¢â¬ Winston had disappeared among the shelves of faux-antidepressants when Molly entered the store. He wondered if he should have ordered some faux-antipsychotics as well. Val Riordan hadn't said. Ã¢â¬Å"Look,Ã¢â¬ Molly finally said, Ã¢â¬Å"I'm nuts. You know it, I know it, Winston knows it. But in America it is your right to be nuts. I get a check from the state every month because I'm nuts. The state gives me money so I can buy whatever I need to continue being nuts, and right now I need this case of ointment. So ring it up so I can go be nuts somewhere else. Okay?Ã¢â¬ The hens huddled and tittered. Ã¢â¬Å"Or do I need to buy a case of those huge fluorescent orange prelubricated condoms with the deely-bobbers on the tip and blow them up in your card section.Ã¢â¬ You never have to get this tough with Sand Pirates, Molly thought. The hens broke their huddle and looked up in terror. Ã¢â¬Å"I hear they're like thousands of tiny fingers, urging you to let go,Ã¢â¬ Molly added. Between the four of them it only took ten minutes more to ring up Molly's order and figure her change within the nearest dollar. As Molly was leaving, she turned and said, Ã¢â¬Å"In the Outland, you would have all been made into jerky a long time ago.Ã¢â¬ Fifteen Steve Getting blown up had put the Sea Beast in a deep blue funk. Sometimes when he felt this way, he would swim to the edge of a coral reef and lie there in the sand while neon cleaner fish nipped at the parasites and algae on his scales. His flanks flashed a truce of color to let the little fish know that they were safe as they darted in and out of his mouth, grabbing bits of food and grunge like tiny dental hygienists. In turn, they emanated an electromagnetic message that translated roughly to: Ã¢â¬Å"I won't be a minute, sorry to bother you, please don't eat me.Ã¢â¬ He was getting a similar message from the warmblood that was ministering to his burns, and he flashed the truce of color along his sides to confirm that he understood. He couldn't pick up the intentions of all warmbloods, but this one was wired differently. He could sense that she meant him no harm and was even going to bring him food. He understood that when she made the Ã¢â¬Å"SteveÃ¢â¬ sound, she was talking to him. Ã¢â¬Å"Steve,Ã¢â¬ Molly said, Ã¢â¬Å"stop making those colors. Do you want the neighbors to see? It's broad daylight.Ã¢â¬ She was on a stepladder with a paintbrush. To the casual observer, she was painting her neighbor's trailer. In fact, she was applying great gobs of Neosporin oint ment to the Sea Beast's back. Ã¢â¬Å"You'll heal faster with this stuff on you, and it doesn't sting.Ã¢â¬ After she had covered the charred parts of the trailer with ointment, she draped fiberglass fabric on as bandages and began ladling roof-patching tar over the fabric. Several of her neighbors looked out their windows, dismissed her actions as more eccentricities of a crazy woman, then went back to their afternoon game shows. Molly was spreading the roofing tar over the fiberglass bandages with a squeegee when she heard a vehicle pull up in front of her trailer. Les, the hardware guy, got out of the truck, adjusted his suspenders, and headed toward her, looking a little nervous, but resolved. A light dew of sweat shone on his bald head, despite the autumn chill in the air. Ã¢â¬Å"Little lady, what are you doing? I thought you were going to wait for me to help you.Ã¢â¬ Molly came down from her ladder and stood with the squeegee at port arms while it dripped black goo. Ã¢â¬Å"I wanted to get going on this before dark. Thanks for coming.Ã¢â¬ She smiled sweetly Ã¢â¬â a leftover movie star smile. Les escaped the smile to hardware land. Ã¢â¬Å"I can't even tell what you're trying to do here, but whatever it is, it looks like you mucked it up pretty bad already.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, come here and look at this.Ã¢â¬ Les moved cautiously to Molly's side and looked up at the trailer. Ã¢â¬Å"What the hell is this thing made of anyway? Up close it looks like plastic or something.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Maybe you should look at it from the inside,Ã¢â¬ Molly said. Ã¢â¬Å"The damage is more obvious in there.Ã¢â¬ The hardware clerk leered. Molly felt him trying to stare through her sweatshirt. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, if that's what you think. Let's go inside and have a look.Ã¢â¬ He started toward the door of the trailer. Molly grabbed his shoulder. Ã¢â¬Å"Wait a second. Where are the keys to your truck?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I leave 'em in it. Why? This town is safe.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No reason, just wondering.Ã¢â¬ Molly dazzled him with another smile. Ã¢â¬Å"Why don't you go on in? I'll be in as soon as I get some of this tar off of my hands.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Sure thing, missy,Ã¢â¬ Les said. He toddled toward the front door like a man badly in need of a rest room. Molly backed away toward Les's truck. When the hardware clerk laid a hand on the door handle, Molly called, Ã¢â¬Å"Steve! Lunch!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"My name isn't Steve,Ã¢â¬ Les said. Ã¢â¬Å"No,Ã¢â¬ Molly said, Ã¢â¬Å"you're the other one.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Les, you mean?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, lunch.Ã¢â¬ Molly gave him one last smile. Steve recognized the sound of his name and felt the thought around the word Ã¢â¬Å"lunchÃ¢â¬ Les felt something wet wrap around his legs and opened his mouth to scream just as the tip of the serpent's tongue wrapped his face, cutting off his air. The last thing he saw was the bare breasts of the fallen scream queen, Molly Michon, as she lifted her sweatshirt to give him a farewell flash before he was slurped into the waiting maw of the Sea Beast. Molly heard the bones crunch and cringed. Boy, sometimes it just pays to be a nutcase, she thought. That sort of thing might bother a sane person. One of the windows in the front of the dragon trailer closed slowly and opened, a function of the Sea Beast pushing his meal down his throat, but Molly took it for a wink. Estelle Dr. Val's office had always represented a little island of sanity to Estelle, a sophisticated status quo, always clean, calm, orderly, and well appointed. Like many artists, Estelle lived in an atmosphere of chaotic funk, taken by observers to be artistic charm, but in fact no more than a civilized way of dealing with the relative poverty and uncertainly of cannibalizing one's imagination for money. If you had to spill your guts to someone, it was nice to do it in a place that wasn't spattered with paint and covered with canvases that beckoned to be finished. Dr. Val's office was an escape, a pause, a comfort. But not today. After being sent in to the inner office, before she even sat down in one of the leather guest chairs, Estelle said, Ã¢â¬Å"Your assistant is wearing oven mitts, did you know that?Ã¢â¬ Valerie Riordan, for once with a few hairs out of place, rubbed her temples, looked at her desk blotter, and said, Ã¢â¬Å"I know. She has a skin condition.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"But they're taped on with duct tape.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's a very bad skin condition. How are you today?Ã¢â¬ Estelle looked back toward the door. Ã¢â¬Å"Poor thing. She seemed out of breath when I came in. Has she seen a doctor?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Chloe will be fine, Estelle. Her typing skills may even improve.Ã¢â¬ Estelle sensed that Dr. Val was not having a good day and decided to let the assistant in oven mitts pass. Ã¢â¬Å"Thanks for seeing me on such short notice. I know it's been a while since we've had a session, but I really felt I need to talk to someone. My life has gotten a little weird lately.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"There's a lot of that going around,Ã¢â¬ Dr. Val said, doodling on a legal pad as she spoke. Ã¢â¬Å"What's up?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I've met a man.Ã¢â¬ Dr. Val looked up for the first time. Ã¢â¬Å"You have?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"He's a musician. A Bluesman. He's been playing at the Slug. I met him there. We've been, well, he's been staying at my place for the last couple of days.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"And how do you feel about that?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I like it. I like him. I haven't been with a man since my husband died. I thought I would feel like, well, like I was betraying him. But I don't. I feel great. He's funny, and he has this sense of, I don't know, wisdom. Like he's seen it all, but he hasn't become cynical. He seems sort of bemused by the hardships in life. Not at all like most people.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"But what about you?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I think I love him.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Does he love you?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I think so. But he says he's going to leave. That's what's bothering me. I finally got used to being alone, and now that I found someone, he's going to leave me because he's afraid of a sea monster.Ã¢â¬ Valerie Riordan dropped her pen and slumped in her chair Ã¢â¬â a very unprofessional move, Estelle thought. Ã¢â¬Å"Excuse me?Ã¢â¬ Val said. Ã¢â¬Å"A sea monster. We were at the beach the other night, and something came up out of the water. Something big. We ran for the car, and later Catfish told me that he was once chased by a sea monster down in the Delta and that it had come back to get him. He says he doesn't want other people to get hurt, but I think he's just afraid. He thinks the monster will come back as long as he's on the coast. He's trying to get a gig in Iowa, as far from the coast as he can get. Do you think he's just afraid to commit? I read a lot about that in the women's magazines.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"A sea monster? Is that a metaphor for something? Some Blues term that I'm not getting?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, I think it's a reptile, at least the way he describes it. I didn't get a good look at it. It ate his best friend when he was a young man. I think he's running away from the guilt. What do you think?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Estelle, there's no such thing as sea monsters.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Catfish said that no one would believe me.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Catfish?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That's his name. My Bluesman. He's very sweet. He has a sense of gallantry that you don't see much anymore. I don't think it's an act. He's too old for that. I didn't think I would ever feel this way again. These are girl feelings, not woman feelings. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I want to have his grandchildren.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Grandchildren?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Sure, he's had his days with the booze and the hos, but I think he's ready to settle down.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"The booze and the hos?Ã¢â¬ Dr. Val seemed to have gone into some sort of fugue state, working on a stunned psychiatrist autopilot where all she could do was parrot what Estelle said back in the form of a question. Estelle needed more input than this. Ã¢â¬Å"Do you think I should tell the authorities?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"About the booze and the hos?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"The sea monster. That Plotznik boy is missing, you know?Ã¢â¬ Dr. Val made a show of straightening her blouse and assuming a controlled, staid, professional posture. Ã¢â¬Å"Estelle, I think we may need to adjust your medication.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I haven't been taking it. But I feel fine. Catfish says that if Prozac had been invented a hundred years ago there wouldn't have been any Blues at all. Just a lot of happy people with no soul. I tend to agree with him. The antidepressants served their purpose for me after Joe died, but I'm not sure I need them now. I even feel like I could get some painting done Ã¢â¬â if I can find some time away from sex.Ã¢â¬ Dr. Val winced. Ã¢â¬Å"I was thinking of something besides antidepressants, Estelle. You obviously are dealing with some serious changes right now. I'm not sure how to proceed. Do you think that Mr., uh, Catfish would mind coming to a session with you?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That might be tough. He doesn't like your mojo.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"My mojo?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Not your mojo in particular. Just psychiatrist's mojo in general. He spent a little time in a mental hospital in Mississippi after the monster ate his friend. He didn't care for the staff's mojo.Ã¢â¬ Estelle realized that her vocabulary, even her way of thinking, had changed over the last few days, the result of immersion in Catfish's Blues world. The doctor was rubbing her temples again. Ã¢â¬Å"Estelle, let's make another appointment for tomorrow or the next day. Tell Chloe to add it on at the end of the day if I'm booked up. And try to bring your gentleman along with you. In the meantime, assure him that my practice is mojo-free, would you?Ã¢â¬ Estelle stood. Ã¢â¬Å"Can that little girl write with those oven mitts on?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"She'll manage.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"So what should I do? I don't want him to go. But I feel like I've lost a part of myself by falling in love. I'm happy, but I don't know who I am anymore. I'm worried.Ã¢â¬ Estelle realized that she was starting to whine and looked at her shoes, ashamed. Ã¢â¬Å"That's our time, Estelle. Let's save this for our next appointment.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Right. Should I tell the constable about the sea monster?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Let's hold off on that for now. These things have a way of taking care of themselves.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Thanks, Dr. Val. I'll see you tomorrow.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Good-bye, Estelle.Ã¢â¬ Estelle left the office and stopped at Chloe's desk outside. The girl was gone, but there were animal noises coming from the bathroom just down the hall. Perhaps she had caught one of the oven mitts on her nose ring. Poor thing. Estelle went to the bathroom door and knocked lightly. Ã¢â¬Å"Are you okay in there, dear? Do you need some help?Ã¢â¬ The answer came back in high moan. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm fine. Really fine. Thanks. Oh my God!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You're sure?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, that's all right!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'm supposed to make an appointment for tomorrow or the next day. The doctor said to pencil it in late if you have to.Ã¢â¬ Estelle could hear thumping noises coming from the bathroom, and it sounded as if the medicine cabinet had dumped. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh wow! Wow! Oh wow!Ã¢â¬ The scheduling must really have been tight. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm sorry. I won't bother you anymore. Call me to confirm, would you, dear?Ã¢â¬ Estelle left Valerie Riordan's house even more unsettled than she had come in, thinking that it had been quite some time, half a day anyway, since she had had her skinny Bluesman between the sheets. Dr. Val Val had a break between appointments, time in which to reflect on her suspicion that by taking everyone in Pine Cove off antidepressants, she had turned the town into a squirrel's nest. Estelle Boyet had always been a tad eccentric, it was part of her artist persona, but Val had never seen this as unhealthy. On the contrary, the self-image of an eccentric artist seemed to help Estelle get over losing her husband. But now the woman was raving about sea monsters, and worse, she was getting involved in a relationship with a man that could only be construed as self-destructive. Could people Ã¢â¬â rational adult people Ã¢â¬â still fall in love like that? Could they still feel like that? Val wanted to feel like that. For the first time since her divorce, it occurred to her that she actually wanted to be involved again with a man. No, not just involved, in love. She pulled her Rolodex from the desk drawer and thumbed through it until she found the number of her psychiatrist in San Junipero. She had been in analysis all through med school and residency, it was an integral part of the training of any psychiatrist, but she hadn't seen her therapist in over five years. Maybe it was time. What sort of cynicism had come over her, that she was interpreting the desire to fall in love as a condition requiring treatment? Maybe her cynicism was the problem. Of course she couldn't tell him about what she had done to her patients, but perhapsÃ¢â¬ ¦ A red light blinked on the tiny LED panel on her phone and the incoming call, screened by Chloe, who had obviously taken a short break from her self-abuse, scrolled across the screen. Constable Crowe, line one. Speaking of squirrels. She picked up the phone. Ã¢â¬Å"Dr. Riordan.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Hi, Dr. Riordan, this is Theo Crowe. I just called to tell you that you were right.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Thank you for calling, Constable. Have a nice day.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You were right about Bess Leander not taking the antidepressants. I just got a look at the toxicology report. There was no Zoloft in her system.Ã¢â¬ Val stopped breathing. Ã¢â¬Å"Doctor, are you there?Ã¢â¬ All her worries about the drugs, this whole perverse plan, all the extra sessions, the long hours, the guilt, the friggin' guilt, and Bess Leander hadn't been taking her medication at all. Val felt sick to her stomach. Ã¢â¬Å"Doctor?Ã¢â¬ Theo said. Val forced herself to take a deep breath. Ã¢â¬Å"Why? I mean, when? It's been over a month. When did you find this out?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Just today. I wasn't given access to the autopsy report. No one was. I'm sorry it took so long.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, thank you for letting me know, Constable. I appreciate it.Ã¢â¬ She prepared to ring off. Ã¢â¬Å"Dr. Riordan, don't you have to get a medical history on your patients before you prescribe anything?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes. Why?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Do you know if Bess Leander had any heart problems?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, physically she was a very healthy woman, as far as I know. Why?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No reason,Ã¢â¬ Theo said. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh yeah, I never got your thoughts on the information I shared at breakfast. About Joseph Leander. I was still wondering if you had any thoughts?Ã¢â¬ The whole world had flip-flopped. Val had stone-walled up to now on Bess Leander because she had assumed that her own negligence had had something to do with Bess's death. What now, though? Really, she didn't know much about Bess at all. She said, Ã¢â¬Å"What exactly do you want from me, Constable?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I just need to know, did she suspect her husband of having an affair? Or give you any indication that she might be afraid of him?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Are you saying what I think you are saying? You don't think Bess Leander committed suicide?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'm not saying that. I'm just asking.Ã¢â¬ Val searched her memory. What had Bess Leander said about her hus-band? Ã¢â¬Å"I remember her saying that she felt he was uninvolved in their family life and that she had laid down the law to him.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Laid down the law? In what way?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"She told him that because he refused to put the toilet seat down, he was going to have to sit down to pee from now on.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That's it?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That's all I can remember. Joseph Leander is a salesman. He was gone a lot. I think Bess felt that he was somewhat of an intrusion on her and the girls' lives. It wasn't a healthy relationship.Ã¢â¬ As if there is such a thing, Val thought. Ã¢â¬Å"Are you investigating Joseph Leander?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'd rather not say,Ã¢â¬ Theo said. Ã¢â¬Å"Do you think I should be?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You're the policeman, Mr. Crowe.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I am? Oh, right, I am. Anyway, thanks, Doctor. By the way, my friend Gabe thought you were, uh, interesting, I mean, charming. I mean, he enjoyed talking with you.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"He did?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Don't tell him I said so.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Of course. Good-bye, Constable.Ã¢â¬ Val hung up and sat back in her chair. She had unnecessarily put an entire town in emotional chaos, committed a basketful of federal crimes as well as breaking nearly every ethical standard in her field, and one of her patients had possibly been murdered, but she felt, well, sort of excited. Charming, she thought. He found me charming. I wonder if he really said Ã¢â¬Å"charmingÃ¢â¬ or if Theo was just making that up Ã¢â¬â the pothead. Charming. She smiled and buzzed Chloe to send in her next appointment.