The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

BOOK: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
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THE LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE
CHRISTOPHER MOORE

This one's for Mom

Contents

PROLOGUE

September in Pine Cove is a sigh of relief, a…

O
NE

As dead people went, Bess Leander smelled pretty good: lavender…

T
WO

The cooling pipes at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant…

T
HREE

Theophilus Crowe wrote bad free-verse poetry and played a jimbai…

F
OUR

As September's promise wound down, a strange unrest came over…

F
IVE

The great Sea Beast paused in his pursuit of the…

S
IX

Was 'bout fifty year ago. I was hoboing through the…

S
EVEN

It has the soul-sick wail of the Blues, the cowboy…

E
IGHT

He knew he should return to the safety of the…

N
INE

When Mikey “the Collector” Plotznik wheeled into town and saw…

T
EN

Val Riordan leaned against her office door, trying to catch…

E
LEVEN

Catfish awoke to find a paint-spattered woman padding about the…

T
WELVE

To distract herself from the dragon next door, Molly had…

T
HIRTEEN

Somehow, through the night, the residents of Pine Cove, especially…

F
OURTEEN

Pine Cove was a decorative town—built for show—only one degree…

F
IFTEEN

Getting blown up had put the Sea Beast in a…

S
IXTEEN

The phone behind the bar rang and Mavis yanked it…

S
EVENTEEN

Molly had always wondered about American women's fascination with bad…

E
IGHTEEN

The bust of Hippocrates stared up at Val Riordan from…

N
INETEEN

Intimacies, what happens between two people in private (or one…

T
WENTY

Over the years, Theo had learned to forgive himself for…

T
WENTY
-O
NE

“This is where I found the aberrant rats,” Gabe said…

T
WENTY
-T
WO

The walls of Molly's trailer were plastered with movie posters.

T
WENTY
-T
HREE

What horrors can a dragon dream? A creature who has…

T
WENTY
-F
OUR

Sheriff John Burton stood by the ruins of Theo's Volvo…

T
WENTY
-F
IVE

H.P.'s Cafe was crowded with early morning old guys drinking…

T
WENTY
-S
IX

Val and Gabe entered the bar, then stepped out of…

T
WENTY
-S
EVEN

Val was wishing she had a video recorder to preserve…

T
WENTY
-E
IGHT

To Burton, it sounded like there could be thirty or…

T
WENTY
-N
INE

Up until the time that Steve had come to town…

T
HIRTY

“Listen,” Theo said, cocking his ear toward the cave mouth.

T
HIRTY
-O
NE

“Has it been five minutes yet?” Molly was sitting cross-legged…

T
HIRTY
-T
WO

“That was a good guitar,” Catfish said. He had his…

T
HIRTY
-T
HREE

Winter in Pine Cove is a pause, a timeout, an…

September in Pine Cove is a sigh of relief, a nightcap, a long-deserved nap. Soft autumn light filters through the trees, the tourists go back to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Pine Cove's five thousand residents wake up to discover that they can once again find a parking place, get a table in a restaurant, and walk the beaches without being conked by an errant Frisbee.

September is a promise. Rain will come at last and turn the golden pastures around Pine Cove green, the tall Monterey pines that cover the hills will stop dropping their needles, the forests of Big Sur will stop burning, the grim smile developed over the summer by the waitresses and clerks will bloom into something resembling real human expression, children will return to school and the joy of old friends, drugs, and weapons that they missed over the summer, and everyone, at last, will get some rest.

Come September, Theophilus Crowe, the town constable, lovingly clips the sticky purple buds from his sensimilla plants. Mavis, down at the Head of the Slug Saloon, funnels her top-shelf liquors back into the well from whence they came. The tree service guys, with their chain saws, take down the dead and dying pines lest they crash through someone's roof with the winter storms. Woodpiles grow tall and wide around Pine Cove homes and the chimney sweep goes to a twelve-hour workday. The
sunscreen and needless souvenir shit shelf at Brine's Bait, Tackle, and Fine Wines is cleared and restocked with candles, flashlight batteries, and lamp oil. (Monterey pine trees have notoriously shallow root systems and an affinity for falling on power lines.) At the Pine Cove Boutique, the hideous reindeer sweater is marked up for winter to await being marked back down for the tenth consecutive spring.

In Pine Cove, where nothing happens (or at least nothing has happened for a long time), September is an event: a quiet celebration. The people like their events quiet. The reason they came here from the cities in the first place was to get away from things happening. September is a celebration of sameness. Each September is like the last. Except for this year.

This year three things happened. Not big things, by city standards, but three things that coldcocked the beloved status quo nonetheless: forty miles to the south, a tiny and not very dangerous leak opened in a cooling pipe at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant; Mavis Sand advertised in
Songwriter
magazine for a Blues singer to play through the winter at the Head of the Slug Saloon; and Bess Leander, wife and mother of two, hung herself.

Three things, omens if you will. September is a promise of what is to come.

Admitting You
Have a Problem

“Dear, dear, how queer everything is today! And yesterday everything went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is: Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!”

—
LEWIS CARROLL
,
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Theophilus Crowe

As dead people went, Bess Leander smelled pretty good: lavender, sage, and a hint of clove. There were seven Shaker chairs hung on pegs on the walls of the Leanders' dining room. The eighth was overturned under Bess, who hung from the peg by a calico cloth rope around her neck. Dried flowers, baskets of various shapes and sizes, and bundles of dried herbs hung from the open ceiling beams.

Theophilus Crowe knew he should be doing cop stuff, but he just stood there with two emergency medical technicians from the Pine Cove Fire Department, staring up at Bess as if they were inspecting the newly installed angel on a Christmas tree. Theo thought the pastel blue of Bess's skin went nicely with her cornflower-blue dress and the patterns of the English china displayed on simple wooden shelves at the end of the room. It was 7
A.M.
and Theo, as usual, was a little stoned.

Theo could hear sobs coming from upstairs, where Joseph Leander held his two daughters, who were still in their nightgowns. There was no evidence of a masculine presence anywhere in the house. It was Country Cute: bare pine floors and bent willow baskets, flowers and rag dolls and herb-flavored vinegars in blown-glass bottles; Shaker antiques, copper kettles, embroidery samplers, spinning wheels, lace doilies, and porcelain placards with
prayers from the Dutch. Not a sports page or remote control in sight. Not a thing out of place or a speck of dust anywhere. Joseph Leander must have walked very light to live in this house without leaving tracks. A man less sensitive than Theo might have called him whipped.

“That guy's whipped,” one of the EMTs said. His name was Vance McNally. He was fifty-one, short and muscular, and wore his hair slicked back with oil, just as he had in high school. Occasionally, in his capacity as an EMT, he saved lives, which was his rationalization for being a dolt the rest of the time.

“He just found his wife hanging in the dining room, Vance,” Theo pronounced over the heads of the EMTs. He was six-foot-six, and even in his flannel shirt and sneakers he could loom large when he needed to assert some authority.

“She looks like Raggedy Ann,” said Mike, the other EMT, who was in his early twenties and excited to be on his first suicide call.

“I heard she was Amish,” Vance said.

“She's not Amish,” Theo said.

“I didn't say she was Amish, I just said I heard that. I figured she wasn't Amish when I saw the blender in the kitchen. Amish don't believe in blenders, do they?”

“Mennonite,” Mike said with as much authority as his junior status would afford.

“What's a Mennonite?” Vance asked.

“Amish with blenders.”

“She wasn't Amish,” Theo said.

“She looks Amish,” Vance said.

“Well, her husband's not Amish,” Mike said.

“How can you tell?” Vance said. “He has a beard.”

“Zipper on his jacket,” Mike said. “Amish don't have zippers.”

Vance shook his head. “Mixed marriages. They never work.”

“She wasn't Amish!” Theo shouted.

“Think what you want, Theo, there's a butter churn in the living room. I think that says it all.”

Mike rubbed at a mark on the wall beneath Bess's feet where her black buckled shoes had scraped as she convulsed.

“Don't touch anything,” Theo said.

“Why? She can't yell at us, she's dead. We wiped our feet on the way in,” Vance said.

Mike stepped away from the wall. “Maybe she couldn't stand anything touching her floors. Hanging was the only way.”

Not to be outdone by the detective work of his protégé, Vance said, “You know, the sphincters usually open up on a hanging victim—leave an awful mess. I'm wondering if she actually hanged herself.”

“Shouldn't we call the police?” Mike said.

“I am the police,” Theo said. He was Pine Cove's only constable, duly elected eight years ago and reelected every other year thereafter.

“No, I mean the real police,” Mike said.

“I'll radio the sheriff,” Theo said. “I don't think there's anything you can do here, guys. Would you mind calling Pastor Williams from the Presbyterian church to come over? I need to talk to Joseph and I need someone to stay with the girls.”

“They were Presbyterians?” Vance seemed shocked. He had really put his heart into the Amish theory.

“Please call,” Theo said. He left the EMTs and went out through the kitchen to his Volvo, where he switched the radio over to the frequency used by the San Junipero Sheriff's Department, then sat there staring at the mike. He was going to catch hell from Sheriff Burton for this.

“North Coast is yours, Theo. All yours,” the sheriff had said. My deputies will pick up suspects, answer robbery calls, and let the Highway Patrol investigate traffic
accidents on Highway 1, that's it. Otherwise, you keep them out of Pine Cove and your little secret stays secret.” Theo was forty-one years old and he still felt as if he was hiding from the junior high vice principal, laying low. Things like this weren't supposed to happen in Pine Cove. Nothing happened in Pine Cove.

He took a quick hit from his Sneaky Pete smokeless pot pipe before keying the mike and calling in the deputies.

 

Joseph Leander sat on the edge of the bed. He'd changed out of his pajamas into a blue business suit, but his thinning hair was still sticking out in sleep horns on the side. He was thirty-five, sandy-haired, thin but working on a paunch that strained the buttons of his vest. Theo sat across from him on a chair, holding a notepad. They could hear the sheriff's deputies moving around downstairs.

“I can't believe she'd do this,” Joseph said.

Theo reached over and squeezed the grieving husband's bicep. “I'm really sorry, Joe. She didn't say anything that would indicate she was thinking about doing something like this?”

Joseph shook his head without looking up. “She was getting better. Val had given her some pills and she seemed to be getting better.”

“She was seeing Valerie Riordan?” Theo asked. Valerie was Pine Cove's only clinical psychiatrist. “Do you know what kind of pills?”

“Zoloft,” Joseph said. “I think it's an antidepressant.”

Theo wrote down the name of the drug on his notepad. “Then Bess was depressed?”

“No, she just had this cleaning thing. Everything had to be cleaned every day. She'd clean something, then go back five minutes later and clean it again. She was making life miserable for the girls and me. She'd make us take our shoes and socks off, then wash our feet in a basin before we came into the house. But she wasn't depressed.”

Theo wrote down “crazy” on his notepad. “When was the last time Bess went to see Val?”

“Maybe six weeks ago. When she first got the pills. She really seemed to be doing better. She even left the dishes in the sink overnight once. I was proud of her.”

“Where are her pills, Joseph?”

“Medicine cabinet.” Joseph gestured to the bathroom.

Theo excused himself and went to the bathroom. The brown prescription bottle was the only thing in the medicine cabinet other than disinfectants and some Q-Tips. The bottle was about half-full. “I'm going to take these with me,” Theo said, pocketing the pills. “The sheriff's deputies are going to ask you some of these same questions, Joseph. You just tell them what you told me, okay?

Joseph nodded. “I think I should be with the girls.”

“Just a bit longer, okay? I'll send up the deputy in charge.”

Theo heard a car start outside and went to the window to see an ambulance pulling away, the lights and siren off. Bess Leander's body riding off to the morgue. He turned back to Joseph. “Call me if you need anything. I'm going to go talk to Val Riordan.”

Joseph stood up. “Theo, don't tell anyone that Bess was on antidepressants. She didn't want anyone to know. She was ashamed.”

“I won't. Call me if you need me.” Theo left the room. A sharply dressed plainclothes deputy met him at the bottom of the steps. Theo saw by the badge on his belt that he was a detective sergeant.

“You're Crowe. John Voss.” He extended his hand and Theo shook it. “We're supposed to take it from here,” Voss said. “What have you got?”

Theo was at once relieved and offended. Sheriff Burton was going to push him off the case without even talking to him. “No note,” Theo said. “I called you guys ten minutes after I got the call. Joseph said she wasn't
depressed, but she was on medication. He came downstairs to have breakfast and found her.”

“Did you look around?” Voss asked. “This place has been scoured. There isn't a smudge or a spot anywhere. It's like someone cleaned up the scene.”

“She did that,” Theo said. “She was a clean freak.”

Voss scoffed. “She cleaned the house, then hung herself? Please.”

Theo shrugged. He really didn't like this cop stuff. “I'm going to go talk to her psychiatrist. I'll let you know what she says.”

“Don't talk to anybody, Crowe. This is my investigation.”

Theo smiled. “Okay. But she hung herself and that's all there is. Don't make it into anything it's not. The family is in pretty bad shape.”

“I'm a professional,” Voss said, throwing it like an insult, implying that Theo was just dicking around in law enforcement, which, in a way, he was.

“Did you check out the Amish cult angle?” Theo asked, trying to keep a straight face. Maybe he shouldn't have gotten high today.

“What?”

“Right, you're the pro,” Theo said. “I forgot.” And he walked out of the house.

In the Volvo, Theo pulled the thin Pine Cove phone directory out of the glove compartment and was looking up Dr. Valerie Riordan's number when a call came in on the radio. Fight at the Head of the Slug Saloon. It was 8:30
A.M.

Mavis

It was rumored among the regulars at the Head of the Slug that under Mavis Sand's slack, wrinkled, liver-spot-
ted skin lay the gleaming metal skeleton of a Terminator. Mavis first began augmenting her parts in the fifties, first out of vanity: breasts, eyelashes, hair. Later, as she aged and the concept of maintenance eluded her, she began having parts replaced as they failed, until almost half of her body weight was composed of stainless steel (hips, elbows, shoulders, finger joints, rods fused to vertebrae five through twelve), silicon wafers (hearing aids, pacemaker, insulin pump), advanced polymer resins (cataract replacement lenses, dentures), Kevlar fabric (abdominal wall reinforcement), titanium (knees, ankles), and pork (ventricular heart valve). In fact, if not for the pig valve, Mavis would have jumped classes directly from animal to mineral, without the traditional stop at vegetable taken by most. The more inventive drunks at the Slug (little more than vegetables themselves) swore that sometimes, between songs on the jukebox, one could hear tiny but powerful servomotors whirring Mavis around behind the bar. Mavis was careful never to crush a beer can or move a full keg in plain sight of the customers lest she feed the rumors and ruin her image of girlish vulnerability.

When Theo entered the Head of the Slug, he saw ex-scream-queen Molly Michon on the floor with her teeth locked into the calf of a gray-haired man who was screeching like a mashed cat. Mavis stood over them both, brandishing her Louisville Slugger, ready to belt one of them out of the park.

“Theo,” Mavis shrilled, “you got ten seconds to get this wacko out of my bar before I brain her.”

“No, Mavis.” Theo raced forward and knocked Mavis's bat aside while reaching into his back pocket for his handcuffs. He pried Molly's hands from around the man's ankle and shackled them behind her back. The gray-haired man's screams hit a higher pitch.

Theo got down on the floor and spoke into Molly's ear. “Let go, Molly. You've got to let go of the man's leg.”

An animal sound emanated from Molly's throat and bubbled out through blood and saliva.

Theo stroked her hair out of her face. “I can't fix the problem if you don't tell me what it is, Molly. I can't understand you with that guy's leg in your mouth.”

“Stand back, Theo,” Mavis said. “I'm going to brain her.”

Theo waved Mavis away. The gray-haired man screamed even louder.

“Hey!” Theo shouted. “Pipe down. I'm trying to have a conversation here.”

The gray-haired man lowered his volume.

“Molly, look at me.”

Theo saw a blue eye look away from the leg and the bloodlust faded from it. He had her back. “That's right, Molly. It's me, Theo. Now what's the problem?”

She spit out the man's leg and turned to look at Theo. Mavis helped the man to a bar stool. “Get her out of here,” Mavis said. “She's eighty-sixed. This time forever.”

Theo kept his eyes locked on Molly's. “Are you okay?”

She nodded. Bloody drool was running down her chin. Theo grabbed a bar napkin and wiped it away, careful to keep his fingers away from her mouth.

“I'm going to help you up now and we're going to go outside and talk about this, okay?”

Molly nodded and Theo picked her up by the shoulders, set her on her feet, and steered her toward the door. He looked over his shoulder at the bitten man. “You okay? You need a doctor?”

“I didn't do anything to her. I've never seen that woman before in my life. I just stopped in for a drink.”

Theo looked at Mavis for confirmation. “He hit on her,” Mavis said. “But that's no excuse. A girl should appreciate the attention.” She turned and batted her spiderlike false eyelashes at the bitten man. “I could show you some appreciation, sweetie.”

The bitten man looked around in a panic. “No, I'm fine. No doctor. I'm just fine. My wife's waiting for me.”

“As long as you're okay,” Theo said. “And you don't want to press charges or anything?”

BOOK: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
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