Chapter 1: The Beginning
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The last of my friends safely in their cars and driving away, I flip off the porch light, lean back against the front door, and survey the damage to my living/dining room.
It’s not that my friends are messy people, but when you’ve spent your Sunday afternoon and evening playing an epically long, six hour session of D&D? Yeah, my apartment is usually the biggest causality. Sighing, I push off from the door. I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t get this done tonight it’ll sit until at least Wednesday.
“Floor duty, Winston!” I call.
Immediately, Winston, my three year old American mastiff, uncurled himself off my couch and bounded under the table to begin scrounging for fallen Cheetos and Doritos. I very rarely feed Winston table scraps. He’s a big dog, it’s the way he’s made, and while he’s very healthy, I don’t want to risk his health by letting him get fat. D&D nights are his treat. He licks up all the crumbs—and I know my friends deliberately drop pieces for him—so I can Swiffer the floor, and then I feed him one of those quarter pound Hebrew National hot dogs he loves, and that’s it until next Sunday.
I ponder my stereo for a minute before deciding to flip on the TV, turning it to the 11 o’clock news. I keep an ear open as I start gathering up glasses and loading them into the dishwasher. I generally like to not appear like an uninformed shut-in—I’m not—and having a general inkling of what’s going on helps with that.
The dishwasher is running, pizza boxes and soda bottles—Dr Pepper, thank you. Despite the stereotypes, I’ve never been a fan of Mountain Dew—emptied and rinsed, respectively, and tossed into their recycling containers, and I’ve started wiping down the big butcher block table when something on the news catches my attention. I leave the paper towels on the table and grab the remote to turn up the volume.
“…disturbing story out of Huntington tonight. Yesterday, two men reported hearing screams while they were hiking. Police responded and located a cabin where they found a grisly scene. We’re going live now to Marc Jensen, who’s on scene.”
“Thank you, Victoria. I’m here in Huntington, reporting on a crime that local police are calling to worst in this town’s history. Today, police, responding to reports of screams, broke into a cabin to discover the bodies of three people. No details have been released yet, but from a source that doesn’t wish to be named, there appear to be signs of a violent struggle. And it gets worse. We’re hearing claims that the person accused and arrested for the crime, who was at the scene when police arrived, apparently ate the victims.”
I gag slightly. “God, people are sick,” I mutter. I click off the TV, done with my nightly fill of the news. My tummy is pleasantly full of pizza, Dr Pepper and snacks, and I want to keep it that way. I’ll read up on the story more tomorrow, probably at cnn.com. A story like that is going to make national headlines, so I don’t doubt they’ll have coverage of it.
I finish wiping down the table, toss the paper towels out, put the bottle of cleaner away, and nudge Winston out of the way so I can run the Swiffer over the hardwood, catching any remaining crumbs and removing the film of dog slobber he always leaves behind.
Winston has just finished swallowing down his hot dog and I’m drying my hands on a kitchen towel when I see the AIM box pop up on my laptop.
“you new englanders are sick, you know that garrett?”
I laugh, sliding into my chair at the desk. Jacob, my last ex. He used to be a regular at our game sessions, until his job took him out the Colorado last year. We tried to make a go of the long-distance thing, but it didn’t work. We’re still friends, though, and I do miss him at times, especially since I haven’t met anyone else for more than a few casual dates. Wanking furiously alone in my bed is not how I’d prefer to spend my evenings.
“It’s all that repressed sexual desire,” I crack back.
“good to kno you’re safe then.”
We chat back and forth for a little while, seeing what each other is up to, how our jobs are going, if we’ve met anyone. Jake says he has, maybe. He’s not sure yet, doesn’t want to jinx it. I wish him good luck, and he apologizes for ruining me with his perfection. If he were here, that would earn him a shot to the arm, but as it is, a “haha, you’re funny, kid” is the best I can do.
Winston comes up, leaning heavily against me and sighing mournfully. “All right, you big baby,” I murmur, wish Jake a good night, and sign off. Closing the laptop and leaving it where it is, I amble into my bedroom. Winston curls up on his huge dog pillow-bed thing in the corner, while I strip out of my clothes. My jeans, still good for another few days, go across my hamper while everything else goes in, and I slide into bed.
Sunday is also Clean Sheet Day, and I bury my nose in the pillow, breathing deep. God, I love clean sheets. It’s a little ridiculous, but I have five sets, and after washing them, I store them in the small cedar chest my mom bought me when I first got my own place so they have a whole month to absorb the smell. Growing up, Mom always kept our sheets in the hope chest that had once been her grandmother’s. By the time I was an adult, I couldn’t sleep well unless my sheets smelled like that. College had been a nightmare until I started buying those little bags of cedar chips to store in the Rubbermaid tub I used for sheets and towels.
Once I had my own place, Mom showed up with the chest packed full of bedding—a hope chest of my very own, every daughter’s (or in my case, gay son’s) dream—and I don’t think I’d ever loved her more than the moment I made my bed for the first time with those sheets.
I make a mental note to call her tomorrow and tell her I love her.
And because some of the things in Garrett's life mirror mine so closely, here are a few things to give you a better picture.
Leandra's hope chest (Mine.):
Chapter 2: Precipice
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Winston wakes me in the morning, a better alarm clock than anything money could buy. I push his head away, vowing to feed him some dental bones as soon as we get back from his walk, and drag some clothes on. Keys, cell and wallet all go into my pockets, and I grab Winston’s leash, harness and muzzle from the hooks by the door.
The muzzle. Christ, I hate that thing and so does Winston. He’s the biggest baby in the world, and if I had kids, I’d trust him with their lives. But people are irrationally scared of big dogs, and when you’ve got a beast whose head reaches nearly to your chest and who outweighs you, you take precautions not to invite trouble. People have asked me if he needs the muzzle, and I’m always quick to defend him, slipping the muzzle off if they allow it and letting them see how gentle he is.
He’s the last present my dad got me—my gift when I graduated. Dad died less than three months later, and I will be damned if I give anyone any reason to take Winston away.
I fasten the harness—I need the control if he decides to throw his weight around—clip the leash to that, and slip the muzzle on. Locking the door behind me, we set out.
None of my neighbors are around. They all have jobs that require them to leave fairly early, so the beginning of our walk is blessedly silent. I wave to Mrs. Dodds as we get to her house, and Winston and I hop up onto her porch to say hello. She’s nearing ninety, but still lives in her own home. I hope I’m half that spry when I’m her age.
I slip Winston’s muzzle off and she feeds him a couple of dog treats she always has with her—shaped like a fried egg and a strip of bacon, they look ridiculously tiny disappearing into my dog’s mouth. She rubs his head and scratches his ears, cooing at Winston in baby talk while his tail whips back and forth into my legs in doggie bliss.
We make some small talk, and I expertly deflect her comments asking if I’ve found a nice girl yet and that a handsome boy like me needs to settle down with a pretty wife and raise a bunch of fat, happy babies.
Unlike some, I don’t get angry with people like Mrs. Dodds when they go on like that. I can accept that she’s from another time. Flaunting my sexuality isn’t going to change anything, and I’ll just alienate her. As long as she doesn’t try to hit on me herself, then we’re cool.
Although, I’m pretty sure she did pinch my ass once.
The rest of the walk is quiet. About halfway through, I dig my phone out of my pocket one-handed and give Mom a call. She answers on the third ring. She always answers on the third ring. It’s something she’s deeply superstitious about. My mother will never, ever answer before the phone has rung twice. I can’t say I blame her. The one time she did, it was the hospital calling to tell her Dad had been in an accident. And ever since then, she doesn’t ever let the phone ring more than three times, just in case it’s bad news. She keeps phones in every room to make sure of it.
It’s also the reason my own cell phone is practically tethered to me, and why I don’t use ringtones. Bethany and Carver are the same way, last I knew. Dad’s accident…. Well, it changed us all that way.
Mom and I talk for a bit. I ask her about her garden—which is huge, seriously, I think I’ve seen farms smaller than it—and I can almost hear her glowing as she talks about how well everything is coming in. She bought a bunch of cheap canning equipment off of eBay recently so she can get ready for the round of harvest festivals once fall comes, and there’s an unspoken invitation to come up and help.
We settle on Labor Day for sure, though I figure I’ll ask Maurice for a couple days off and surprise her.
I answer all her questions. Job’s fine, Winston’s healthy as a horse, my friends are good, no, no one yet, yes, I’ll let her know if it changes.
We exchange goodbyes, tell each other “I love you,” and hang up. I unlock the door and release Winston from his restraints. He sticks to me like a piece of gum on my shoe until I put his food down, and then he’s content to ignore me for the rest of the day. After refilling his water bowl and turning the TV onto Animal Planet for him, I take a quick shower and then make my way into the second bedroom that I converted into an office.
I settle into my chair, fire up my computer, and once everything loads, get to work. Maurice sees me sign on, touches base with me on my current project, and then leaves me be.
I love Maurice Carver. He was my dad’s best friend. They served in the Peace Corps together and he once saved my dad’s life while they were in Africa. That’s why Carver’s named after him. We’ve known him our whole lives and he was Uncle Maury to us when we were growing up.
When I started college, he promised me a job with his architectural firm once I graduated. And he kept that promise, putting me to work on smaller designs—mostly remodels because I have a good eye for modifying existing homes—before finally letting me start in on his bigger projects. It’s a good gig, a really good gig. His office is in Boston, but I get to work from home. I usually head in on Thursdays just to go over anything he feels we need to talk about. The pay is more than fair, enough to pay all my bills and still have enough to build up a nice nest egg. In exchange I work my ass off for him, probably more than I would any other boss. Right now, he’s got me working on rough sketches for a prospective client. It’s the very beginning stages, and I’m just trying out layouts for the building right now.
My stomach grumbles at me at about 9 o’clock, and I snag a Gatorade from the mini-fridge under my desk and reach behind me to grab a power bar from Snack Dragon.
Snack Dragon is the greatest thing I ever got from Ikea. Bethany named him. He’s this…fabric dragon thing with pouches. I fill him with munchies and he hangs off the wall, being awesome. He’s the best $6 I ever spent.
I stop at noon for lunch, which I treat exactly like a lunch hour. I leave my office and make myself a sandwich, grab a handful of chips and a glass of milk, and sit at the table with my laptop, being very, very careful not to get any crumbs in it. I say hi to friends that are online, eating with one hand, chatting with the other. I quickly browse the handful of blogs I read, seeing if there’s anything interesting. Oh, God, Bakerella has a new cookie recipe up. Time for Chef Garrett to take over the kitchen sometime this week!
Remembering the news last night, I check cnn.com. Yup, sure enough, the murder is one of their top headlines. I skim the story quickly. A group of friends went out to the cabin for a weekend of hiking. One of them apparently went crazy and killed three of the others. Two more are still missing. The suspect was violent, attacking all officers who approached, and was later taken to a hospital for injuries.
Having had my dose of crazy for the day, I headed to Youtube to watch a couple of old favorites, then take Winston for another quick walk and get back to work. The design is going well. I’ve already gone through a couple of layouts, but this one feels right and I end up adding a lot of detail to the draft that will hopefully become a blueprint. I finish up around 4 o’clock and send the files to Maurice, calling it a day.
Winston and I go for a third walk, stopping to play with the neighborhood kids that are getting home from the day camps and caretakers they go to in the summer while their parents work.
Dinner is fairly simple: teriyaki salmon, jasmine rice and some asparagus. Followed by a Klondike bar while watching TV. Monday nights are slow for TV, at least until Hoarders and Intervention come on, so I spend my time chatting online. I make plans with Ashley and Sebastian to go to Trivia Night at The Hanged Man on Thursday. We only need to win once more to each have a full set of those nifty Sam Adams glasses.
I’m about to shut down and turn in for the night when my news feed of the Huntington story pops up. Damn. The suspect died of his injuries. No specifics yet, but that’s going to mean a lawsuit for the police department. Well, at least it also means no sensationalist trial. A small update mentions that two of the arresting officers are now hospitalized to be treated for their injuries. Jesus, what did the guy manage to do before the police took him down?
I shake my head, turn my laptop off and go to bed.
Cookies (Go make them, they are effing delicious!):
Chapter 3: Apprehension
The rest of the week passed quickly. The clients approved my initial design, and Maurice arranged for them to come to the office on Thursday so they could sit down with me and discuss in detail what they wanted.
They’re waiting when I walk into Maurice’s office, and rise to shake my hand. They’re a young, good-looking couple. The husband, who introduces himself as Alistair, is tall and extremely well-built, and seems a generally cheerful sort. Something about him seems very familiar and I wrack my brain trying to figure it out while his wife introduces herself.
“Ealasaid,” she says with a soft Scottish accent and I blink, hoping I can repeat her name without butchering it. She apparently notices my consternation because she laughs gently. “Call me Ellis,” she says. “Everyone does.”
“All right then, Ellis. How about if we step into my office and see what I can do for you?”
Alistair, Ellis and I spent the next several hours going over what they want their dream house to look like. They’re really funny people, and we take so long because we keep getting diverted, talking about jobs and hobbies. It turns out they’re really big into historical re-enactments, and they’re planning on devoting an entire room in their house to their costumes, armor and weapons.
They invite me to come down, try some of their stuff out, and join them when King Richard’s Faire opens in September. I agree, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, and Alistair gives me his card with their personal cell numbers on it. I give it a quick glance, meaning to just take a quick, courtesy look before putting it away, when I see their full names and do a double take.
“I know you!” I exclaim without thinking, and then immediately curse my big mouth. Way to go, Garrett. Good job on not making the client uncomfortable. “Oh, that was rude of me. I’m sorry.”
Alistair gives me a lopsided grin. “Don’t worry about it. You were going to find out anyway. I just like not telling people right away if I can avoid it. Let them get to know me before they know the name.”
Right. The name. Theirin. Alistair’s great-grandfather, Brandel Theirin, had been President decades ago, respected and beloved until some whackjob shot him in the head. After that, the family sort of passed into cult status. Brandel’s daughter Moira had withdrawn from public life for awhile, before running and being elected to the Senate. Her son Maric grew up in the public eye, and followed in his mother’s footsteps. His older son, Cailan, didn’t appear to have the same love of politics, preferring instead to lead a life of leisure. He was well-liked, but everyone knew he was a playboy at heart.
Alistair is the result of an…indiscretion Maric had had with a French model, and he’d been formally acknowledged when his mother had come forward. From all the reports, Alistair preferred to keep a low profile, distancing himself from his famous family and all the trials and tribulations that came with them.
I slide the card into the breast pocket of my dress shirt. “Now I feel kind of honored that you picked little old me.”
Ellis smiles. “I was reading a magazine, and there was an article on M. Carver Architecture. It was all very nice, but they had a picture of a living room that caught my eye. There was just something about feel of the room that I knew I wanted, and when I called, Maurice said you were responsible for that.”
“Wow, thanks,” I say, genuinely pleased. That’s the kind of thing that might someday get Maurice to tack on an “Associates” to the name of his business. Or might let me hand out my own little cards with “G. Hawke Architectural Designs” stamped on it. And this job is going to go into my portfolio, and I intent to make damn sure that it can be the centerpiece of it.
Belatedly, I hand them my own card so they can contact me if they need to, and then we say goodbye, shaking hands and looking forward to the next meeting.
Maurice calls me into his office so we can talk, and I can tell he’s very pleased, both for me and his business. There’s a very slight undertone of “Don’t screw this up” during the conversation, but I know he doesn’t mean it personally. He wouldn’t have let me have this project if he didn’t think I could handle it.
I finally make it out, and glance down at my cell phone to check the time. It’s early enough that I shouldn’t hit traffic leaving the city, and that gives me plenty of time to go back home, change my clothes and take care of Winston before meeting Sebastian and Ashley for Trivia Night.
My friends are waiting for me outside the pub when I pull my truck into the parking lot, and we head in to grab our usual table in the corner. In short order, an array of half-priced appetizers and a pitcher of beer is set before us, and the host begins asking questions. The next two hours are a haze of food, beer and answers to obscure trivia scribbled on small white slips of paper. Sebastian discreetly cheats whenever the host plays a song and we have to identify it, opening open the program on his phone that listens and tells us what the song is.
I don’t feel that bad, since I can see other teams doing the same thing, phones held discreetly off to the side or under tables.
After a long, hard fought battle, we finally emerged victorious over our most ardent foes, Ginny Winter and her little cohort of friends. It was a long-standing competition between the two of us, and inevitably, one of our two groups usually won each week. After waving goodbye to them while casually flipping the bird, we collect the glasses that are our prize and make our way to the bar for one last round.
Isabela sets our full glasses on the length of polished wood in front of us, and I pick mine up, saying, “Thanks, Izzy,” before I take a swallow. She grins and nods before moving down the bar to take care of someone else’s order. As we’re sitting there, I hear Sebastian say, “What the hell?” and follow his gaze to the flat screen bolted to the wall behind the bar. The Hanged Man is too loud to actually hear what the TV is saying, so the closed captioning is always turned on. The three of us watch as the black bars scroll up the screen.
…second of the two officers injured in the Huntington case has died today. Officials are now concerned that the suspect may have been carrying a communicable disease, and are waiting the results of an autopsy. Residents are urged to take precautions such as hand washing and are advised to stay home if feeling ill.
And in another disturbing case, several attacks have been reported in the surrounding areas. Police are urging people to be smart and use caution, and to report any suspicious behavior. No one is sure what is behind the attacks yet, but an unnamed source says that police are looking into the possibility that the attacks and Huntington murders are related.
I set down my half-finished beer on the bar and push it away. I know the world’s all kinds of fucked up, but come on. This is getting ridiculous. This kind of shit isn’t supposed to happen in peaceful, quiet New England towns.
Sebastian reaches over, asks if I’m going to finish my beer, and I wave it over to him. No sense letting it go to waste if I’m not going to finish it. Sebastian takes it with a smile and I eye him critically. I’ve only had about three beers in as many hours, so I’m fine to drive, but Sebastian’s tucked away much more than that tonight. He could probably walk a straight line and recite the alphabet backwards if he got pulled over, but that would be from practice and not any kind of sobriety.
Ashley and I look at each other, and then play Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide who’s going to get the joy of brining him home tonight. I lose. So while Ashley settles up the bar tab, I grab Sebastian’s arm and start to guide him from the bar.
“Your bed or my couch?” I ask him as I open the passenger door to my truck and get ready to catch him if he falls out while climbing in.
He blinks at me blearily for a moment before scrubbing a hand over his face briskly. “Couch is fine, man. Less outta the way for you.” His southern accent is heavier than it usually is. Alcohol and women have a way of bringing that out in him. It’s not some “hick” accent either, but one of those cultured, polished, old-world ones that I always imagined a riverboat gambler had. He dressed up as one for a Halloween party one year, and his BMW had had a girl in every seat when he left that night.
He also does a mean Scottish accent, and the year he wore a kilt, he left with one guy in the front seat and two girls in the back.
We make it back home, and luckily he doesn’t need any help getting inside. He toes off his shoes and collapses face down on the couch before I’ve even gotten the front door shut and locked. Sebastian’s asleep by the time I come back out to the living room with a spare, lightweight blanket. It’s still summer, but I like the leave the AC cranked, and I don’t want him fumbling around at three in the morning trying to either find a blanket or turn the AC off.
The last thing I do is turn his head so that it’s facing out, and place a small waste basket on the floor, just in case, and then flick the light off and head into my bedroom.
I don’t bother to be neat tonight, just dropping my clothes on the floor as I crawl into bed. Sleep doesn’t find my right away though, and I find myself staring at the ceiling. Every so often, I get hung up on something that troubles me for seemingly no reason. I know Bethany and Carver are the same way, and we all got it from Dad. Most of the time, it’s meaningless, just our brains behaving oddly. But sometimes…sometimes obsessing over something has come in handy, kept us prepared. Dad had a real knack for that, somehow knowing with a weird sixth sense when something was important even if no one else thought it was. I asked him, once, how he knew, and he just shrugged, said that he simply did, that there was a voice deep inside he’d learned to listen to.
Now, I think I know what he meant. Something about this Huntington story bothers me for a reason I can’t put my finger on and in a way I can’t describe. The rational part of my brain tells me there’s no reason to worry over it like this, but that little voice tells me to pay attention.
I roll over, vowing to dig a little deeper tomorrow, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep. Who knows? Maybe this is just beer and hot wings doing funny things to my head, and in the morning I’ll have forgotten all about it.
But I stay awake for a long time.