Authors: Jeff Crook
“The sword was just laying there in plain sight.” He wouldn't listen to me and now I was going to have to lie for him.
“Excuse me!” a man said as he walked by me. He was an older guy, balding, wearing a white knee-length kimono. “Do you have a warrant?”
Adam laid the sword back in the drawer and turned. The man stopped as though he'd hit a wall. “Adam!”
“Hi, Dave,” Adam said.
Dave Straw, theater manager from the Orpheum, backed up until he bumped into me. He jerked a step forward and whipped around with a vicious glare. “
,” he snarled, then turned back to Adam. “What are y'all doing here?”
doing here, Dave?”
“I'm an old friend.” Dave was trying to maintain control of the situation. I was close enough to see the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stand up, prickled with goose bumps and popping sweat.
Adam smiled the smile of an old friend and rested an elbow on the tall back of one of the dining-room chairs. “We're looking for the owner of a blue Camaro with a rainbow sticker on the back window.”
Dave ran his hands down the front of his kimono. His legs were so white they were blue, and completely hairless as though waxed.
“He doesn't live here.”
“The car's parked in the garage.”
“It had your tag on it about an hour ago, when it was involved in a traffic accident.” Adam ran his hand across the top of the chair. The room smelled like Old English furniture polish. I wondered if anyone had ever eaten a meal on the table. “That would be the tag you reported stolen Friday.”
“It's not my car,” Dave said.
“I realize that. I saw your car in the driveway.” His eyes flickered across mine.
“Where's Michi-san?” I asked.
Dave didn't like that question. If he only answered one line of questioning at a time, he probably could have kept his lies straight. “Still in bed. He's been there since he came home from the hospital.”
“Did you bring him home?”
Dave nodded and looked pleadingly at Adam. “Let's go talk to him,” Adam said.
It took a minute for the message to get to Dave's feet. Adam gave me a wink. He was one damn good cop. If I'd had a partner like him back in the day, I might still be a cop myself.
We followed Dave upstairs. He took the back stairs by the kitchen, which were steep enough that I could see right up his kimono from behind. He was wearing plaid boxers, something of a disappointment. I had expected nothing less than panties.
I had never been in the upper floors of Michi's house. The halls were narrower than those downstairs and painted a soothing pastel green with simple white trim and crown molding. It almost looked normalâalmost, because nothing in Michi's house was normal. There was a lingering foul smell that no amount of potpourri or Ralph Lauren cologne could completely mask. It was similar to the smell downstairs, only sharper, and without the respectability given by the overlying odors of antique furniture and carpets. The rank was more pungent here, closer to the black heart of Michi's lair. I had smelled it before, in the back rooms of cheap porn shops where they showed dollar-a-minute movies in little booths with sticky floors and doors that wouldn't lock. Where men sought anonymous sex with faceless men kneeling on the other side of glory holes gnawed through the walls. Half the men I arrested in those places didn't call themselves gay or even bisexual. It was the debasement they sought, to give in to the darkness of their own souls, or to reaffirm their own deep self-loathing. Or maybe it was the cheap thrill, or the danger, or the unencumbered, unemotional physical release.
And it wasn't just the layer upon layer of rotting semen caked in the floor cracks that gave those places their smell. It was the rawness of the exposed human psyche, like an abscessed tooth or a gangrenous wound. It was hellish and dark and fly-specked, and in those places people ceased to be human and became mere receptacles, disposable objects to be used and thrown away.
This was Michi Mori's inner sanctum, his unholy of unholies. Its pastel green normalcy, its vacuumed beige carpetness, belied the unfathomable debaucheries celebrated behind its paneled white doors. All the doors were closed, like in a hotel, and the quiet was profound. Dave stopped at the third door on the left. He tapped the hollow wood with the knuckle of this middle finger, then turned the knob and opened the door. “Michi-san?” he whispered as he leaned inside.
The lamp by the bed was on and the covers were pulled back. The place looked like any normal person's bedroom, like my parents' bedroom, neither overtly masculine nor covertly feminine. It was clean and tidy, no clothes on the floor, no drawers half open. I wondered where Michi kept the photos I'd sold him. The bed was empty. “Maybe he's in the bathroom.” Dave crossed to another door and stopped with his ear close to the wood. After a few seconds, he said “Michi-san?” and tried the handle. The bathroom was dark. He flicked on the light. “He's not here.”
As we exited the bedroom, two boys came out of another room down the hall. Neither looked older than twenty, both extremely good-looking, naked with shaved pubes and dicks like sausages hanging in a German shopkeeper's window. One of them had a folded towel and a bar of green soap. Neither seemed the least bit surprised or ashamed.
“Keith, have you seen Michi-san?” Dave asked.
“Not since this morning.”
“He said he needed something from the wine cellar,” the other boy said.
“When was this?” Adam asked. “What time?”
The two looked at one another and shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe around ten?” Keith offered
“It was before ten, wasn't it?” the other said.
“I don't think so.”
“He was in the kitchen.”
“Isn't he in his room now?” Keith asked.
“No,” Dave said.
“God, I hope he hasn't fallen down those stairs!” They ran by us.
We followed, down the stairs and past Michi's kitchen, which was dark except for the light over the stove. By this time, we'd lost sight of the boys, but the swinging door marked their trail. I had just started down the cellar stairs, Adam close behind me, when a shrill scream came from below, cut short by a noise like a bowling ball dropped on a concrete floor.
We found Keith lying beside an enormous pool of dark, glossy blood, two streaks showing where his feet slipped. He lay on his side holding the back of his head. There was too much blood for it all to be his. His friend had slid barefoot through the pool and now knelt beside him.
We were in a cellar easily half the size of the house. The roof was supported by thick, ancient wooden beams that ran in parallel lines into the gloom. The floor was painted concrete, the walls concrete brick and lined with wine racks. There were wine barrels stacked up under the wooden stairs. Four light fixtures hung over an empty corner near the barrels, where someone had built a wooden platform about six inches off the floor, like a simple stage. A couple of old couches and chairs stood before it, crushed cigarette butts littering the floor around them.
The pool of blood ran from the stage across the floor and collected at the foot of the stairs. An antique desk sat at the center of the stage, and on it stood a chemistry set like something out of an old Frankenstein movie. A Bunsen burner hissed under a round beaker boiling with some dark liquid. A huge, leather-bound book lay open on the corner of the desk, its pages soaked red with blood. Sitting atop the spine of the book, with his mouth forced open in a hideous O of surprise by a gleaming silver speculum, lay Michi's severed head.
HE POLICE FOUND
scattered all over the cellar. For once, I let Wiley's boys take the pictures. Adam found me upstairs in the kitchen with Dave Straw. Dave sat at the Skovby kitchen table in his vomit-flecked silk kimono, hands cuffed behind his back. I looked out the window and watched the cops wandering around the backyard in the rain, kicking at the hostas under the elm trees. One of Dr. Wiley's techs passed in the hall with a white plastic bucket. He dropped it as he descended the stairs to the cellar.
Adam spread my photo printouts from the Orpheum and the Jim Krews murder scene on the table. Dave turned his head away rather than look at them. “I didn't know them, Adam.”
“Who owns the blue Camaro?”
“There are so many boys. I can't keep track of them all.”
“Have you run the VIN number?” I asked.
“It's been ground off.” Adam sat across from Dave and said, “A little while ago you knew him. You said he doesn't live here.”
“Yes, you did.”
“It's Endo's car,” I said. Dave's head snapped around, confirming my guess. I opened the fridge, took a Heineken from the door and unscrewed the cap.
“Who is Endo?” Adam's question was directed at me. He wanted to know what else I knew, and how long I had known, but I had only then figured it out. Ever since last Monday night at the Orpheum, I thought the killer was Dave. When Adam introduced us, his hands were wet because he had just washed them. Then, when they uncovered the body, he excused himself and probably slipped backstage to watch from behind the scenery. Then the plates from the Camaro came back with his name. He was involved in the theater, and I guessed he was secretly gay. It all seemed to fit together.
I said, “Noboyuki Endo. Michi's grandson.”
Dave sank forward until his forehead touched the table. For an older man, he was surprisingly limber. “You and Endo?”
“Once,” Dave said to the table. “Just once.”
“You've known all along, haven't you?” Adam asked him, but I wondered if the question wasn't for me, too.
Dave shook his head. “Just since Monday.”
“That boy on the stage of the Orpheum with a pipe up his ass was a message to you, wasn't it? A message from Endo.”
“How did you know?”
“That scene downstairs is from Marlowe's
,” I said.
Adam stared hard at me. “I don't get it.”
“Faustus makes a bargain with Lucifer. For twenty-four years he would have the demon Mephistopheles to teach him magic.” I took a long pull of beer to give myself time to put it together in my head, all the little ends and pieces coming together, each one leading to the next revelation. The beer seemed to help. “Endo's birthday was last Friday.”
I took another pull, whirled it in my mouth for a second, then swallowed. “He's twenty-eight. He came to live with Michi when he was four after his mother killed herselfâtwenty-four years ago.”
“And from that you deduced it was Endo?”
“It was just a wild ass guess. Dave confirmed it, and now I think it's pretty obvious Endo chose to stage
to celebrate the end of twenty-four years with his sorcerer.”
“So what's your deal with Endo, Dave? How did y'all hook up?” Adam asked.
“Endo's a master carpenter. Every theater in town wants him for their productions, and not just because his grandfather is Michi Mori. But Endo doesn't like building things. He thinks he's an actor. I saw him do Othello once, only it was Laurence Fishburne as Othello. People thought he was joking because he's so good at impersonations. He can do just about any actor you name. He had every line memorized, every inflection, voice and poise and timing perfect, but none of it was real. He was just parroting another actor's performance.
“So I felt sorry for him, you know. Even though he makes it hard because he's such a prick. He hated us, said we were a bunch of vampires leeching off his grandfather. Like he wasn't doing the same thing. Can I have a cigarette?”
“I'm out,” I said.
“Look in the drawer by the stove.” I found an open pack of Michi's Winstons under a brochure for Maui. I shook one out, lit it and hung it in the corner of Dave's mouth. He nodded his thank-you and took a long shuddering drag and blew the smoke out through his nose.
“When Endo was a kid, he was cute, in a creepy way. One minute he's standing in the doorway staring at you with those huge black eyes of his, then you'd turn around and he'd be gone, just like that.”
The cigarette seemed to help. Some of his color came back and he stopped sweating. He tilted his head to keep the smoke out of his eye. “Endo built that stage in the cellar. When he was a kid, he used to put on shows for Michi's guests. It was cute, you know, but God, he was so serious, and he'd get
pissed when people laughed at him, he could hardly move. One time, I think he was about sixteen, he did the tomorrow and tomorrow scene from that Scottish play, and after it was over, Michi told him he'd never be an actor but he was a superb carpenter, because he had turned the cellar into this incredible castle dungeon set. Michi got him his first job at Theatre Memphis. He majored in theater but never got a part in any of the college productions, none that I ever heard about. After he graduated, he became master carpenter at the McCoy.”
“The McCoy's at Rhodes College,” Adam said to me. “That must be where he met Jim Krews.”
“It's a black-box theater. They hardly ever need a carpenter,” Dave said. “He wasn't there long, anyway. Once word got out, directors started hiring him for productions all over town. He's worked pretty much everywhere. He even did some set work for that Johnny Cash movie.”
Adam pulled out a chair and sat across the table from Dave. “So let me make sure I understand. Endo worked for you at the Orpheum. Anything else?”
“We had sex
time, if you can call it that,” Dave said. He sat up in the chair and flexed his hands in the cuffs. “Just once. He wanted me to humiliate him, piss on him, that kind of thing. I wouldn't do it. He hasn't left me alone since. Keeps calling my house. I'm married, Adam, you know that. I got kids in junior high.”