Authors: Nathan Aldyne
ELLO. THIS is not Daniel Valentine, but his disembodied voice brought to you through the miracle of printed circuitry. When you hear the beep tone, please leave your name, number, and a short message. When I return I will erase the tape. Thank you.”
“It's Clarisse at three o'clock. Life or death.”
“Whose life, whose death?”
“Thank God you've called, Val!”
“Whose life, whose death?”
“She's dead? Oh, Clarisse, I'm so sorry, Iâ”
“She's not dead, she just threw up in the fireplace.”
“I don't know how you expect to keep a dog in the city anyway. Why did you really call?”
“I was feeling sorry for myself. When Veronica Lake got sick I took her out to my brother's, and now I'm
alone. I wish I were with you in Provincetown! Boston is awful. The Esplanade is
Herring Cove, Newbury is
Commercial Street, the city is filled with tourists who are apparently seeing concrete sidewalks for the first time, the health club has closed the pool for renovations, and the rental season is
“Hate to say this, but the rest of the summer isn't going to be any better if you insist on staying in Boston. Why don't you come down to Provincetown? Quit your job, pack your bags, lock up the flat, and hop on the ferry.”
“The utter stupidity of that idea has considerable appeal for me. But, Val, where would I stay?”
“You can stay with me.”
“You just want somebody to help with the rent. And you forget, I wouldn't have any income down there. I'd need a job, I'dâ”
“I've already got you a job.”
“There's a shop right across from the bar where they need somebody, and I've already mentioned you.”
“What sort of place is it?”
“Gift shopârare and beautiful things. Come on, Clarisse, I guarantee that you will be completely happy here. Absolutely nothing will go wrong the entire summer. Sun, fun, and romanceâthat's what life is like in P'town. And besides, the first big party of the season is Saturday night. Private. Invitation only. Open bar.”
“Who's giving it?”
“The Crown. And of course, this being Provincetown, there's a theme.”
“What is it?”
“Garden of Evil.”
“It'd take me two days to get up a decent costume.”
“So you'll come?”
“If you promise to get rid of the answering machine.”
“Hear that sound? It's me, ripping the plug from the wall. I'll see you Saturday then?”
“Oh, why not? Tell Noah I'm coming, and put some clean sheets on the bed. Oh and by the way, how much does that job pay?”
“A third of what you make now. Poverty will stare you in the face.”
“I don't care. I'll take it. I have to be in P'town. Valentine, I love you. It's a real problem.”
“Come live with me then. That'll get you over it.”
The Garden of Evil
T A QUARTER PAST one the following Saturday afternoon as the Provincetown ferry was being secured to the wharf, Clarisse Lovelace, attired in a white sailor-suit top with blue piping and matching white bell-bottomed pants, was first in line to disembark. A little girl had tried to slip in front of her, but when Clarisse pointedly remarked that it wasn't too late to be hurled overboard the child retreated. The ankle strap of one of Clarisse's heavy-heeled sandals was loosened to lessen the pressure on a large blister that had developed on her heel since the morning, her cascade of black hair was tangled about her shoulders from having been whipped by the salt wind for the past three hours, and her oversized octagonal sunglasses were perched awry on her noseâthe right-hand stem had been broken by an ecology freak rushing to the railing when whales were sighted off the port bow. Her sailor's cap had blown off before the ferry had even left Boston harbor. Clarisse's back ached from carrying her overstuffed leather bag, and when she hoisted it over her shoulder, a thick strand of her hair caught in the zipper.
“Move it, lady!” urged the three dozen or so day-trippers directly behind her, who were desperately eager to trample Provincetown in the three hours they had before the ferry began its voyage back to Boston.
She turned with a glance of loathing for them all.
When she reached the wharf, she stepped quickly to one side. As she painfully disentangled her hair from the zipper of her leather bag, she watched her fellow passengers swarming off the ferry. The travel bag was dropped onto the rough weathered boards and the costume for that night's party, in a suit bag, laid carefully over it. Behind her a gaggle of adolescent boys in swim trunks and diving goggles were splashing in the water, shouting “Coins, coins!” up at the passengers. Several amused women stopped to toss pennies, but the divers contemptuously allowed these to sink, and screeched, “Quarters! Throw some quarters!”
The teenaged voices had anything but a salutary effect on Clarisse's headache. She stepped to the edge of the wharf and, when one boy whose voice was particularly harsh shouted, “Throw, throw!” Clarisse ripped off her broken sunglasses and flung them at his head.
She picked up her bag and moved down the long pier. Before her, Provincetown was spread in a multicolored crescent along the inside of the Cape Cod hook. As she trudged along with her bags she watched eagerly for a sight of Daniel Valentine, but saw neither his face nor form. One of the very few handsome men she had seen on the ferry moved along beside her almost in step. He was of medium height and size, and much more than medium good looks, with short dark hair and a carefully trimmed mustache. His skin was flawless and though the summer was just under way, already well tanned. He wore black sneakers and button-fly jeans. His shirt dated from the fifties: bright red, patterned in lines of small black tulips, with the long sleeves carefully rolled to encircle his large biceps. But it was his eyes that most drew Clarisse's attention: they were a startling cobalt blue. When Clarisse paused, exhausted, he stopped and offered to carry her bag for her. She accepted gratefully.
“My name's Jeff,” he said, then amended, “Jeff King.”
“I'm Clarisse,” she replied, but did not offer her last name.
“Are you down for the weekend?”
“No, I'm here for the summer. But the fact is,” she added confidingly, “I
“Where are you staying?” Jeff asked.
“At my uncle's place.”
“You're lucky. I tried to get a reservation, but there wasn't anything available. I'll have to see what turns up.”
Clarisse looked him over and laughed. “I imagine you'll come across someone with an extra pillow.”
Jeff smiled at the compliment. “I hope so. I used to come down here a lot, and I had a lot of friends here. I guess I'll have to see who's in town this season.”
They had reached the municipal parking lot, and Clarisse thanked Jeff for his assistance.
“Where does your uncle live? I'm not doing anything, I might as well take it on for you.”
Clarisse, sensing that Jeff wanted nothing more in the world than for her to offer her uncle's living room couch as a place to stay the weekend, smiled warmly, and said, “Thank you, but a friend is supposed to be meeting me. Of course, if he's not here in five minutes, I have every intention of murdering him.” She collapsed onto a piling that looked to have a tolerably clean surface. “I'm just going to sit here for a few minutes and put myself together. A woman resolved to commit a capital crime can't be too careful about her appearance.”
“You look great,” said Jeff. “I noticed you on the ferry. Your outfit looks great.”
He seemed disposed to linger, perhaps to see if the compliment had assisted his cause, but Clarisse put her hand around the handle of her bag and politely wrested it from him. “Thank you again,” she said in a tone of voice that did not brook argument.
After an awkward moment in which he swung his own bag to and fro, Jeff said, “There's a big costume party tonight.”
“I know,” replied Clarisse.
“Maybe I'll see you there,” Jeff continued lamely.
“Of course. I'll be the one with blood on my hands.” She pointedly turned her head toward the town, as if searching for her friend, and Jeff walked on.
Clarisse sighed, opened the zipper of her bag a few inches, and rummaged inside. When she found her brush, she pulled it violently through her hair until she thought it might be just presentable, and then stood and straightened the shoulders of her blouse. She opened her bag further and extracted a bottle of aspirin and gulped three down dry. She took out her box of adhesive bandages, and placed one over the blister on her heel. She stood, hoisted her bags with a groan, and set off for the Throne and Scepter.
The early afternoon was cloudy, and the brisk salt air was spiked with the scent of impending rain, but Clarisse was well enough acquainted with the unpredictability of Cape Cod weather to distrust her senses completely. In Provincetown you might
rain, and still hope for a brilliantly sunny afternoon.
Saturday afternoon had brought a full complement of tourists to the town. Commercial Street, the principal thoroughfare, which follows the line of the bay and beach for the entire length of the crescent-shaped town, was lined on both sides with families from inland states, couples who doubtless thought themselves in love, and little knots of sullen teenagers who had been told that Provincetown was the hottest place on the Cape but now were at a loss to determine what raised the temperature so. The gay men and lesbians were either still in bed, already at work, or sitting at the Boatslip feeling guilty about starting to drink so early in the day. Turning onto Commercial Street, Clarisse pushed her way along the narrow sidewalk, constantly smiling and saying “Excuse me, please, I'm pregnant,” until she found herself standing before the Throne and Scepter. It was half past one, but already the tiny tables placed among the green palms on the shaded veranda were taken up with chatting tourists who had turned their chairs so that they might watch the ceaseless parade along Commercial Street. A thin young man whose surliness qualified him for any waiter's job in Provincetown glanced with disdain at Clarisse and her baggage, but she ignored him and barged through the open French doors into the bar.
In the sudden dimness of the interior, she could barely make out more potted palms, lazily swirling ceiling fans, and mirrors set to catch the reflections of the street. Clarisse lurched forward to where she remembered the bar to be.
“Pour me a drink before you die,” she gasped, and in another moment, as her vision began to take in more detail, she saw a glass of ice and clear liquid sitting on the bar before her.
“I've been waiting for you,” said Daniel Valentine. His blond hair and beard were lighter than when she'd last seen him, and much more closely cropped.
“I expected a deeper tan.”
Valentine shrugged and automatically made a preening motion of tucking in his clinging red T-shirt. His sleek, tapered muscularity strained the cotton. “How can I get a tan when I've got the day shift? That's why I didn't meet you at the ferry. How