Idyll Threats, page 1
Published 2015 by Seventh Street Books®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
Idyll Threats. Copyright © 2015 by Stephanie Gayle. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, products, locales, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Gayle, Stephanie, 1975—
Idyll threats : a Thomas Lynch novel / by Stephanie Gayle.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-1-63388-078-8 (pbk.) — ISBN 978-1-63388-079-5 (ebook)
Printed in the United States of America
SATURDAY, AUGUST 9TH, 1997
SUNDAY, AUGUST 10TH
MONDAY, AUGUST 11TH
TUESDAY, AUGUST 12TH
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13TH
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14TH
FRIDAY, AUGUST 15TH
SATURDAY, AUGUST 16TH
MONDAY, AUGUST 18TH
TUESDAY, AUGUST 19TH
FRIDAY, AUGUST 22ND
MONDAY, AUGUST 25TH
TUESDAY, AUGUST 26TH
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27TH
THURSDAY, AUGUST 28TH
FRIDAY, AUGUST 29TH
SATURDAY, AUGUST 30TH
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2ND
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8TH
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14TH
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23RD
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26TH
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29TH
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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30TH
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1ST
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10TH
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I didn’t make small talk, didn’t ask about anyone’s evening plans or even say good night. I snuck out the station’s rear exit, the metal door squeaky with humidity, got into my cruiser, and drove to a secluded road. I parked and sat, watching the darkness grow, swallowing one tree at a time. I’d driven to the woods to think. Or not to think. To be alone. I did a lot of that.
An insect symphony played, all percussions. I didn’t like so many bugs so near. I was city-bred, used to roaches and the occasional mosquito. Something pinged against my windshield. My hand went to my gun. Reflex. The action recalled last year’s report on gun deaths that I’d read earlier today. In 1996, only fifty-five cops in the US died on the job from gun-related incidents. I bit my lower lip. In a year less likely to end in a police funeral, my partner, Rick, had beaten the odds. Been shot dead by a dealer. I could hear Rick in my head. “What can I say, buddy? I’m exceptional.”
A bug adhered itself to the passenger window, its fat body vibrating against the glass. To hell with this. I turned the key in the ignition. Time to go home.
He sped past my cruiser, his convertible’s top down. Doing 55 miles per hour, at least. I flipped on my lights and siren and cut a U-turn. The car fishtailed before the tires bit down. The frame shuddered as I lowered my foot. The driver slowed, then stopped his car. He stared ahead at the pocked road, hands on the wheel.
I approached slowly. You never know whether the guy you’ve stopped is an upright father of four or an anxious kidnapper. If he was the former, I didn’t want to scare him.
The crescent moon turned his gray hair silver. He turned toward me when I reached his door. Blue eyes. I’ve always been a sucker for blue eyes. “Sir?”
He started when I spoke. Not unusual. I’m a big guy with a deep voice.
“License and registration, please.”
He handed over both. His watch was a TAG Heuer. A real one. I’d seen the fakes sold on Canal Street. His name was Leo Wilton. Age forty-nine. Address in Ashford, Connecticut. Thirty minutes east of here.
I considered running his plates. Screw it. Too much to hope he was a serial killer.
I returned his papers. “The speed limit on this road is 35 miles per hour.”
“Lot of wildlife out here. Deer. They do nasty things to cars.” Or so I’d heard. I’d been here seven months and not seen one. I suspected the locals invented things.
“Sure. Sorry ’bout that.” He looked directly at me. Straight men don’t stare into each other’s eyes, unless they’re about to fight. This guy wasn’t angry. My body responded. My brain fought back. I was within town limits. I could be spotted. But it had been a long time since I’d scratched this itch. Six and a half months: a long winter, a stone-cold spring, and a summer with no skin in it. I craved contact.
“You see a lot of action out here?” He waved his hand at the trees, their needles pointy, ominous at night.
“Action?” He was hitting on me. I hadn’t mistaken it. “Not exactly.” In this town, with its picket-fenced homes, action was unknown. Everyone here was hetero or pretending to be. I gave him a small smile, just a quick pull of my lips. It was enough.
“You want to go somewhere?” he asked.
I chewed the smooth skin inside my cheek. I was off duty, but in uniform. A hell of a risk, but he looked nice in the moonlight, like a foil-wrapped gift.
“There’s a place not far from here,” he said.
Had I known what would result from this encounter—the secrets, the lies—I would’ve gone home and slept alone, again. But murder doesn’t call ahead, warn you that it’s coming. And if it had, I wouldn’t have believed it. In this sleepy town named Idyll, murder seemed impossible. So I walked, lightheaded with lust, unaware that each step brought me closer to death and near destruction.
He led me to a disheveled shack I’d heard of but never seen. The cabin by Hought’s Pond was condemned. In New York, to be condemned required one of three Cs: crack house, critters, or collapse. Here in Idyll, Connecticut, public disapproval was enough. The house, a shingled box, had a sunken porch, a rotted roof, and windows shot out by teens with BB guns. “Jack is a dooshbag” was spray-painted on the front door. Above the tag, a frayed No Trespassing sign dangled. This place was a blight in its postcard-perf
He gripped my shirt and tugged me down so my face was level with his. I stiffened all over. He smelled of peppermint, his lips thin and slick. He reached under my shirt, his fingers tickling my abs. “Someone’s been working out.”
I grunted. We stomped up the creaking stairs in unsteady lockstep. My cock throbbed, halfway between pain and pleasure. Our bodies bumped. “Ah,” I said. I nipped his neck. He held me closer. We crashed through the cabin door. My foot connected with a can. It rattled across the floor.
We jerked apart. A couple lay on the floor, half-undressed. They reared back, as if struck. Near them, an oil lamp glowed. Too dim to warn this place was occupied. “You can’t come barging in here,” the girl said. She lifted her ass to wiggle into her jeans. Metal winked. Belly button ring. She was young. Twenty or so. Her hair a waterfall of brown. Her panties pink lace, a good girl’s version of sexy. She smelled fresh-from-the-shower clean. But her tone and company told a different story. Even in the feeble light I saw her friend was daddy material. His hair thinning on top. He fumbled with his zipper and half rolled to his side.
“Let’s go,” I said, but Leo crossed his arms.
“Not so fast,” he said.
“Faster.” My lust had fled when I’d seen the couple. I touched his hand, but he yanked it back.
“You miss the No Trespassing sign?” Leo raised his voice to fill the space.
The girl thrust her face forward. A white oval with red lips. Just kissed. Pretty, and angry. “This your cabin?” she asked. Her tone left no doubt she knew the answer.
“Stop arguing,” her friend said. He stabbed his arms into his jacket.
“He could arrest you,” Leo said. He pointed to my badge.
The couple blinked. They hadn’t noticed my uniform. But now they stared, eyes on my badge. I inhaled. It hurt. A lifetime of work, burnt to ash. And for what? A quickie in a rotting cabin? The man got up from the floor and hurried past, hand to his face. Like a pedophile on a perp walk.
The girl looked smaller now, her eyes on the door. “Guess you don’t have any real criminals to chase, huh?” She shoved her feet in her sneakers, not bothering with the laces. As she stomped past, I smelled coconut. The door smacked shut and bounced, the wood warped by damp.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” I said to Leo.
“Point out my badge. I’m not looking to advertise.”
He spread his arms wide. “Now we have the place to ourselves.” He smiled. I didn’t.
“You don’t bully people because you want a fuck. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.” He saluted.
“I’ll lead you to your car.” I’d make sure the bastard left town, and fast.
He snorted. “I can find it. I’ve been here before. This place isn’t a secret.” He pointed at my badge again. “Except to you, I guess. Later, Chief.” He stepped around a discarded condom. I let him go. He knew my rank. From the cruiser and my badge. He could report me. Ruin me. If he hadn’t already.
Broken glass littered the floor. The space smelled of pond algae, like corpses in advanced stages of decay. Multiple people had come here for sex? Why? And how had I almost been among them? God, I was like Rick. My dead partner. Risking my career for a stupid fix. Moonlight shifted through the roof’s holes. A pattern of spotlights played on the sprouting floor. A cracked window shivered. In it, I saw myself, a hulking dark shape. My badge glinted, the only bright thing in that lonely space. I bent down and blew out the oil-lamp flame.
Gravel crunched below as I rolled into the parking lot of Suds. I walked through the bar’s entrance, though it wasn’t open for business. Sunshine followed me inside, where the shades were drawn on all but one window. The door swung shut and the room succumbed to darkness. My shoes clomped on the worn flooring. To my left was the entrance to the Laundromat. Ahead was the bar, a twenty-foot expanse of Kentucky wood. Bought from some gone-bust establishment that had seen Prohibition come and go but hadn’t survived the 1990s.
I sat on a stool and rested my hands on the cool wood. A small metal fan blew detergent and beer-scented air at me. Nate was absent. He’d inherited the Laundromat twelve years ago and bought out the bar two years later. Changed its name to that of the laundry, Suds. He’d said it worked for both.
Nate emerged through the swinging doors in back, where the kitchen was located. He carried two slim-necked bottles in each hand. His long hair was tied back with a red leather strip. An arrowhead rested in the hollow of his throat. He was the only Nipmuc in Idyll, or so folks claimed. He said he had cousins in town who were just as native, but they didn’t look it.
“Hiya, Chief.” He enjoyed the irony of addressing me by title. “Regular?” He walked behind the bar. Set the bottles down. Grabbed a mug and filled it from the sputtering coffeemaker.
“Thanks,” I said. I got smirks at the station for drinking coffee here. “You adding something?” Detective Wright had asked. “Maybe making it Irish?” He’d mimed tilting a bottle, in case I hadn’t got the joke.
The liquor bottles behind the bar looked dull. I’d had too much to drink when I got home last night. It hadn’t worked, hadn’t kept my mind from returning to the cabin with its rotted timbers and sex-stained floor. My guilt wasn’t drownable. But worse was how last night had returned Rick’s death to me. I’d moved hundreds of miles to escape my dead partner. One stupid, impulsive action had brought him back.
I felt Nate’s dark eyes on me. His gaze made me itch.
“Mind if I look at your paper?” I asked.
Nate pushed the Idyll Register to me. Sixteen pages of local news, town events, obituaries, and classified ads. Page 2 featured Mrs. Ida Lewisweather, who’d turned one hundred years old last Friday. Her tips for a long life? “A positive attitude and a nip of whiskey each night.” The police blotter was on page 6. It included reports of smashed mailboxes on Green Street and a burgled house on Whitman Road. They hadn’t mentioned the rabid raccoon my men brought down. I was surprised. It had been quite the event.
I drank my coffee and tried to forget last night. Seven months on the job and I’d no idea that the abandoned cabin was a rendezvous spot. You could fit what I knew about this town into a shell casing.
“Refill?” Nate asked. He wiped the bar in slow, easy circles.
“Sure.” I gazed up at the tin ceiling tiles. They reminded me of home, New York. The only thing in this town that did.
He topped my cup. “You’ve got a bag ready.” He jerked his thumb toward the Laundromat. I owned a washer and dryer. Came with my house. But I was used to city habits: dropping off laundry to be washed and folded. It amused the locals, that I used the Laundromat this way. “I’ll get it before I go,” I said.
My right hand hurt. I flexed my fingers. The knuckles were skinned. I’d punched something last night. What? Not a person. I’d sped home after the cabin. Anxious to hide from others. To be alone with my thoughts. And to drink. I’d been full of bright ideas last night.
Nate filled the fridge with beers. He didn’t talk much. I liked that. He wore layered flannel shirts in winter instead of a coat. His age was impossible to guess. When things were very slow, he read slim books of poems. I’d overheard him say it was the Red Sox’s year for the World Series. But everyone believes at least one crazy thing.
My radio crackled. I’d received complaints about dispatch responses. Last week, the mayor informed me that his roadside-assistance call had gone unanswered for twenty minutes. Instead of telling him to call triple fucking A, I said I’d look into it. And here I was, doing that. What a wonderful pet I made.
“10-78 for Nipmuc Golf Course.” Why did they need a detective?
Nate set a bottle down. “The golf course?” he said. “Something happened out there?”
Another crackle. “10-38 at the Nipmuc Golf Course.” Murder? No way. These yokels didn’t know their codes. Time to school them.
Two patrol cars were parked on the street near the golf course. I pulled behind the second and hauled myself out of my seat, the movement unwelcome. I kept still and waited out the nausea surge. The air was cool, but it would turn inside out by noon, become sticky like taffy. August in Idyll required two shirts: one for work and one for post-work.
“Excuse me, sir. Stop!” A flush-faced cop hurried toward me. Yankowitz. My first day on the job, he’d parked across two spots, including mine. I wrote him a ticket. Ever since, he’s real nervous around me. “Oh, Chief Lynch. Sorry. I didn’t see your car.” The one I was standing beside? Jesus, how had he passed his exams?
“They found a body,” he said.
“Who did?” The ten code was correct? No fucking way.
“The groundskeeper found her. It’s a dead woman.” He hop-stepped side to side, like he had to pee.
He pointed toward the golf course. “Hopkins and Thompson. I was nearby. It’s street-sweeping day.”
“You got here first?” I popped the trunk and grabbed my case, the movements more habit than thought. Did I have extra gloves? Yes, by the spare tire. Good.